President Bush delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term on Wednesday night, focusing a good deal of his attention on Social Security, which he says is facing insolvency.
“We must make Social Security permanently sound, not leave that task for another day,” Bush told Congress – eliciting a mixed response in the hall, including loud, audible grumbles.
“He’s saying we’ve got to take more money out of Social Security to start private accounts and borrow the money. I just think it’s very unwise,” said North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, whose state the president plans to visit on a two-day swing through four states with Democratic senators.
In his 53-minute speech, the president also discussed Iraq, saying he will refuse to retreat from there until Iraqi forces can take over for the American military and fight the insurgents.
Acknowledging a proposal made by his election opponent, Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry – whom Bush introduced in the hall – the president said he wishes to increase the benefit for soldiers killed in action by 20 times its current level, to $250,000.
So far, more than 1,400 American forces have died there. The president said there will be no timetable for U.S. withdrawal, because the troops will leave only when their mission is accomplished. This, too, sparked criticism.
Despite the philosophical and political divisions in the hall, Janet and Bill Norwood, the parents of Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed in the assault of Fallujah, received sustained applause when introduced by the president. Then, in an emotional moment, Mrs. Norwood and Safia Taleb al-Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women’s Political Council, held each other in a long embrace.