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A Captive and Inspired Audience

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In late January, all 535 members of Congress and top-level government officials gather in the Capitol Building and listen to the President give his annual State of the Union address. This Constitutionally-mandated speech is significant because the President maps out for lawmakers his domestic and foreign agenda. It is also a chance for him to convey directly to a national and international audience his vision for America, and the goals he feels it can accomplish.

Though he automatically holds center stage for the night, it takes a special delivery to keep the public spotlight on his message for an extended period . As I sat in the audience listening to President Bush this year, I was proud of his tremendous display of leadership and effort to challenge both Congress, and the American people, to stand with him on some very critical issues. He turned the spotlight on us as elected officials and individuals, intent on our following through.

The President boldly addressed some major issues for this country and I agree with his assessment that they should not be passed along to other Congresses, presidents or generations. They must be dealt with now, and we are poised to do so.

He outlined his plan to stimulate the economy through tax relief for every American who pays income taxes. The President stressed the importance of toeing the spending line in Washington, D.C. and moving toward a balanced budget. He wants to strengthen Medicare by giving seniors a choice for their health plans, and put health care workers back in charge of America's medical system. He urged every American to reach out a compassionate hand to at least one troubled or vulnerable citizen, especially children.

President Bush understands the need for this nation to decrease its energy dependence on foreign sources, while at the same time taking a responsible and practical approach to improve the environment. His Healthy Forests Initiative is near and dear to Idaho's heart as we approach another potentially catastrophic fire season. Like those of us from the West, he does not want to see more communities destroyed, lives lost and precious forests succumb to these raging infernos when active management can lessen the destruction.

One aspect of his speech I was excited to hear was the visionary $1.2 billion proposal to fund the research of developing hydrogen-powered vehicles. These are non-polluting vehicles that produce only water as a byproduct of their energy creation. Nuclear energy is the gateway to a hydrogen economy because it produces the most abundant source of hydrogen in the cleanest manner and, as the nation's nuclear center of excellence, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory will help provide the necessary research and demonstration to get us there.

Most of the focus that night, though, fell on what is next in relation to Iraq, and I think President Bush put forth a convincing case.

He has pieced together, in a very effective manner, the reasons the world must move to disarm the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. As he read detailed the tremendous disservice the United States and the United Nations (U.N.) would be doing for the Iraqi people and surrounding countries by not forcing Saddam to disarm, the silence in the chamber was overwhelming. President Bush takes seriously his role to protect America and its interests, and in our post-September 11 world, he reminded us Saddam poses a threat to international peace and security. He now leaves it to Secretary of State Colin Powell to go back to the U.N. and provide more intelligence and information about the danger of Saddam.

For those who claim Bush is a reckless cowboy intent on causing trouble in the international community, they cannot ignore his proposal to combat the AIDS/HIV crisis on the African continent. The virus has crippled the region and the President realizes just how necessary a humanitarian outreach is needed.

I applaud President Bush for his leadership, and I look forward to see what flourishes from the challenges he presented to us this year. I am confident that with him at the helm of this country, the state of our Union will remain strong as we sail through these choppy waters of uncertainty to a smoother route.

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