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Bush: 'State of our union is confident and strong'

President outlines economic, education initiatives

President outlines economic, education initiatives

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CNN's John King reports on President Bush's State of the Union address.
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Speech excerpt: President Bush defends his decision to go to war with Iraq.
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Speech excerpt: Bush calls for a law to allow government funding of faith-based social initiatives.
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CNN's Kitty Pilgrim examines President Bush's record on previous State of the Union addresses.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although tax cuts, jobs and affordable health care were among the priorities President Bush spoke about in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he told Congress that "our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people."

The president noted that the war on terrorism began on U.S. soil, and though there has not been another attack at home since September 11, 2001, it would be a false hope to think "the danger is behind us."

"The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated," he said.

The president urged lawmakers to ensure that Homeland Security and law enforcement be given "every tool they need to defend us" against terrorists. One of the most essential tools, the president said, was the Patriot Act, which is set to expire next year. He said Congress needs to renew it.

The president said changes in immigration policy that would set up an orderly program for temporary workers to enter the United States legally would help protect U.S. borders by freeing up law enforcement "to focus on true threats to our national security."

Bush stopped short of offering amnesty to the estimated 8 million illegal immigrants in the United States, saying that would encourage further illegal immigration.

Yet despite the talk of dangers, the president said, "The American people are showing that the state of our union is confident and strong."

He also declared that "the economy is strong and growing stronger" because Congress passed his tax cuts, and said the public took that extra money home and put it to work. He urged Congress to make those tax cuts permanent.

Bush boasted that the rate of economic growth in the third quarter of 2003 was the fastest in 20 years, new home construction was the highest in nearly 20 years and home ownership rates were the highest ever.

The president noted that employment is on the rise, but he also called on Congress to help create training programs as an answer to the 2.4 million jobs lost during the past three years.

"America's growing economy is also a changing economy," Bush said. "As technology transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more productive, and workers need new skills. We must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs in our new economy."

The president also issued a call to preserve American values "instilled in us by fundamental institutions, such as families and schools and religious congregations."

"All of us -- parents, schools, government -- must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture and to send the right messages to our children," he said.

Bush said he would propose an additional $23 million for schools to drug-test students. To help young people avoid sexually transmitted diseases, he said he will double federal spending for programs that promote abstinence.

He also proposed additional funding for education programs and grants that promote the study of science and medicine, to help young people get jobs in the fastest-growing occupations.

The president also waded into the debate about same-sex marriage, which gained steam in November when Massachusetts' highest court struck a state law excluding same-sex couples from that legal institution. (Full story)

Bush said the nation "must protect the sanctity of marriage," and that if judges try to redefine marriage by court order, the only alternative would be the "constitutional process," referring to a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being a legal union solely between a man and woman.

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