State of Our Union
"The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." - Article II, Sec. 3, U.S. Constitution.
These words, written at the birth of our nation, draw attention to the importance of open lines of communication between the Executive and Legislative branches of our federal government.
Ever since the early days of our country, the Chief Executive has given Congress an assessment of the condition of the United States and the union which binds us as Americans together. Presidents have used this "State of the Union," as it would eventually be known, to present their legislative proposals and agenda for the upcoming year.
President George Washington personally delivered the first annual message to Congress on January 8, 1790, in New York City's Federal Hall - the seat of the federal government at the time. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of personally giving the address, feeling it too closely resembled the monarchy-style of government of England.
Instead, Jefferson sent copies of his written message to Congress. This practices was continued until Woodrow Wilson personally delivered his annual message to Congress in 1913. Ten years later, Calvin Coolidge's speech was the first annual message to be broadcast on the radio, while Harry Truman's address in 1947 was the first State of the Union to be broadcast on television.
On January 28, President George Bush gave his seventh and final State of the Union address before a joint session of the House and the Senate.
A far cry from the days of George Washington, President Bush's address was shown live on news channels and computers around the world and translated into Arabic, Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, Farsi, and Spanish, among other foreign languages.
He used the opportunity to look forward at the challenges facing our nation, shying away from spending much time reflecting on his seven years as President. This was a good choice. We need to look to the future on issues such as energy, health care, and education.
The President challenged Congress to take action to address the economy in the short and long-term. He reiterated the need to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and arm our intelligence community with the tools it needs to keep our nation safe.
He dealt with the need for economic growth, both as it relates to the average American as well as for our economy in general. Congress needs to act quickly on an economic stimulus package for individuals, and we must act to provide businesses incentives to invest and access to capital for job creation.
We have the opportunity to act on these initiatives - from passing important fair trade agreements, expanding opportunities for Nebraska's products, to protecting taxpayers from future tax increases. But we can only carry out these agenda items if both bodies of Congress are able to work together, in a bipartisan manner in the coming months and put our country back on the right track.
The State of the Union is a chance for the world to see our government - with its many different ideals, political beliefs, and priorities - at its best. Showing respect for the office of President, as well as each other, it is a rare moment of civility in an increasingly politicized environment.
As we begin the second session of the 110th Congress - and as we take up some of the issues discussed in the State of the Union - I hope we can continue with the same sense of respect and duty which was on display that Monday night.