United States President George W Bush urged his fellow citizens on Monday to have confidence in their economy in the long-term as he gave his seventh and final State of the Union address in Capitol Hill.
Addressing a full Congress including some of the Senators who are competing for the 2008 presidential candidacy, the Supreme Court, the top military brass and his cabinet members, Bush acknowledged that growth was slowing and that the US faced "uncertainty". However, a 150 billion US dollars stimulus plan agreed by Congress and the White House would help, he said, and must be passed soon. He did ask for current tax cuts which expire at the end of his term to be made permanent and warned any tax increases that reach his desk would be vetoed. Mr Bush also said his troop "surge" in Iraq was succeeding after a long and costly war and that al-Qaeda was "on the run" and would be defeated. Meanwhile, he called on Iran's leaders to cease their "support for terror abroad" but said the US respected the country's people. In response to Mr Bush's address, Democratic Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius expressed a theme of co-operation and bipartisanship. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement that they would "work with the president - where possible - to bolster the housing market and help Americans keep their homes". More specifically on the economy, Mr Bush acknowledged that the US was "undergoing a period of economic uncertainty", but sought to reassure the nation. "At kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future," he said. But in the long run "Americans can be confident about our economic growth". President Bush also announced a crackdown on congressional earmarks - politicians' pet projects added to spending bills - and threatened to veto the next appropriations bill if the number of such measures was not halved. Echoing a theme of his 2006 address, when he spoke of the US being "addicted to oil", Mr Bush spoke about the importance of US energy independence. "Our security, our prosperity and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil," he said. In addition, Mr Bush urged Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme and "come clean" about its intentions. He continued: "But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will protect our vital interests in the Gulf." On Iraq, Mr Bush acknowledged that the "enemy is still dangerous and more work remains" to be done. But he praised the work of American and Iraqi forces in achieving "results few of us could have imagined just one year ago" and assured Americans that al-Qaeda "will be defeated". He urged Congress to "meet its responsibilities to these brave men and women by fully funding our troops" adding that as a result of progress in Iraq and a transition of operations to Iraqi forces, more than 20,000 troops would be returning to the US in the coming months. The war in Iraq was a key issue in Mr Bush's 2007 address. He warned then that failure would have "grievous" results. During 2007, the US military launched the "surge" strategy - a build-up of US troop levels in Iraq - and there have been dramatic improvements in security in many of the most troubled areas, including much of Baghdad. But it was also the most deadly year for US forces in Iraq, with some 900 troops killed. In the Democratic reply to the president's speech, Governor Sebelius said: "In this time, normally reserved for the partisan response, I hope to offer you something more: an American response. "There is a chance, Mr President, in the next 357 days, to get real results and give the American people renewed optimism that their challenges are the top priority." Ahead of the speech, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters: "The president thinks his legacy will shake itself out when people look at the record, and history will tell." After having peaked to record popularity ratings above 80% following the 9/11 attacks, which also helped him with a comfortable reelection in 2004, President Bush's public opinion support has consistently slipped and now stands as one of the lowest of an outgoing president in recent times. A true "lame duck" in US politics terms, which is harming Republicans, has helped clear the way for leading Democrat hopefuls such as Senators, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.