Bush offers ambitious domestic agenda
President calls for 'open, candid review' of Social Security
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush introduced an ambitious domestic agenda Wednesday night that included reforming Social Security, the tax code, immigration policy, the job training system, civil liability laws and health care.
Delivering his State of the Union address to Congress, Bush also made it clear that high on his agenda would be to promote values central to American culture, singling out the controversy over same-sex marriage.
"Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be re-defined by activist judges," Bush said. "For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage."
Bush bragged that the "economy is the fastest growing of any major industrialized nation," and cited several measures that would make it "more flexible, more innovative, and more competitive."
He said he welcomed "bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline," promising a budget "that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent, and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009."
And to make it work, Bush said he would propose to reduce or eliminate more than 150 programs "that are not getting results or duplicate current efforts."
Even so, he called for an increase in Pell Grants for needy college students and reform of the country's job training system.
Bush said Social Security "is headed toward bankruptcy," but he stopped short of calling it in crisis.
"Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options," Bush said.
Among the options "on the table," he said, are limiting benefits for wealthy retirees, indexing benefits to prices instead of wages and increasing the retirement age.
He indicated one option he would not consider. "We must not jeopardize our economic strength by increasing payroll taxes," he said. (More details)
As expected, Bush urged reform of the civil liability legal system, saying that small businesses in particular are held back by "irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims."
He asked Congress to "move forward on a comprehensive health care agenda" that includes tax credits for low income workers, "expanded health savings accounts and medical liability reform that will reduce health care costs."
Bush called on Congress to pass legislation that would implement "a comprehensive energy strategy" he proposed four years ago, including development of hydrogen-fueled cars, clean coal and ethanol, to make the county "less dependent on foreign energy."
Further, Bush urged a serious look at reform of what he called "an archaic, incoherent federal tax code," noting that he had appointed a bipartisan panel to examine it.
Bush also called for reform of what he described as an "outdated" immigration system.
"It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists," Bush said.
Bush said his social agenda included a policy dedicated to the maintenance of a "culture of life," calling for "clear standards" in an allusion to the controversy over the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research.
"I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts," he said.
He underscored his intention to appoint federal judges who "have a duty to faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench."
On Social Security, Bush reassured retirees and those nearing retirement that the 70-year-old program "is strong and fiscally sound," promising he was proposing nothing that would change their benefits.
"Do not let anyone mislead you," he said. "For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way."
But he said that for younger workers the system "has serious problems that will grow worse with time" and "we have a responsibility" to offer them a better deal.
"And best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts," he said, that would allow workers put a portion of their payroll taxes "into a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds."
CNN.com's David Osier contributed to this report.