WASHINGTON --President George W. Bush addressed growing concerns over the economy in his final address. He also talked about the war in Iraq and the tough fighting that still lies ahead there. "A lot more Americans can be confident about our economic growth. But in the short run, we can all see that that growth is slowing," said Bush. The president is struggling with a battered economy, the lowest job approval ratings since Richard Nixon in the mid-1970s, a Democratic Congress that opposes many of his initiatives and a public that seems more interested in the presidential campaign than the president himself. But Bush said earlier Monday he was "fired up about tonight's speech because there was still so much to do in this final year, beginning with the economy." The president admitted in his final State of the Union address that pervasive economic uncertainty requires immediate action. Bush is calling for a bipartisan approach even in this election year. "Let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them. Let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time," he said. On the domestic front, Bush is asking Congress to pass a $150 billion stimulus package of tax cuts and business credits to make his earlier tax cuts permanent, to protect homeowners with tax-free housing bonds, help low-income students attend private schools and start getting rid of "earmarks, the pet projects that lawmakers tuck into spending bills without debate or disclosure." "You send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I'll send it back to you with my veto," he said. The president says the unfinished business includes Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and immigration reform. And on the foreign affairs front, the agenda features more energy independence, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all and pressing Iran to stop enriching uranium and exporting terrorism. "America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf," Bush said. As for the most politically divisive issue of all, the war in Iraq, Bush says the surge is working, so 20,000 American troops can come home this year. But the president claims that the Democratic efforts to bring more home and sooner would jeopardize the project. "Having come so far and achieve so much, we must not allow this to happen," Hush said. Bush's agenda will be severely tested in the coming weeks when he asks for more money, billions for Iraq, when he wants the domestic surveillance program extended and right away on the stimulus package, which comes up in Congress this week. The president says the stimulus package is fine but doesn't want it loaded down with initiatives, and he said he will veto if there is an attempt to raise taxes, saying the IRS would love to have the money, but Americans don't want to pay it. Bush was interrupted 70 times Monday by applause. The record for the Bush administration was 77 in 2002 and 2003. The Democratic legislative leaders from Illinois said the State of the Union address was high on rhetoric but provided little substance. "I was encouraged by his tone and the effort of bipartisanship, but at the same time a little disappointed on a number of issues, you know, he really doesn't lend himself open to bipartisanship," said Rep. Melissa Bean, (D) 8th district. "Imagine a year from now another president, one sitting and one standing on the issues of economic policies and on the question of where our troops should be at this vital hour in American history," said Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.
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