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Bush Says America is More Secure in State of the Union Address - 2004-01-20

President Bush has highlighted successes in the war on terror and defended the Iraq war in the annual State of the Union address to Congress, saying U.S. servicemen and women deployed across the world are making America more secure.

The president described the state of the American union as confident and strong. But he warned that although more than two years have passed without an attack on American soil, terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. He said the Patriot Act, which broadens government powers to track terrorists, must not be allowed to expire next year. The Patriot Act has come under attack from some civil rights activists who say it violates privacy and basic liberties.

The president praised the people of Afghanistan for building a free nation and fighting terror.

He said the once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole and now sits in a prison cell, and said the world is a safer place without Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush rejected criticism from some who have called for operations in Iraq to be internationalized, citing a number of countries that have already committed troops. He said America would never seek a permission slip to defend the security of its people.

He greeted the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, as an honored guest, and said the coalition is working with the council to draft a basic law and a bill of rights.

In the second half of his speech, the president turned to domestic issues, saying his tax relief is working to make the economy stronger. He called on Congress to act to make the tax cuts permanent for the sake of job growth. Mr. Bush also praised Congress for raising the standards of public schools and for giving elderly Americans prescription drug coverage under the national Medicare program.

This was the president's third state of the union address, and was broadcast live to a national television audience. It will be followed by an official response from the Democratic Party, delivered by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson will deliver a Democratic response in Spanish for the first time.

Four top lawmakers and Commerce Secretary Don Evans are absent from Tuesday's State of the Union speech, in a regular security measure in case the Capital is hit by a catastrophic attack.