Recommendations for the State of the Union Address

Report Political Process

Recommendations for the State of the Union Address

January 24, 2003 14 min read
The Heritage Foundation

On January 28, President George W. Bush will give his second State of the Union Address. The year 2002 was one of great national security and economic challenges for the United States. That will assuredly also be true of 2003 as the Bush Administration looks to disarm Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, build the new Department of Homeland Defense, and work to defuse the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. On the domestic front, the Administration will seek to jump-start the sluggish American economy and tackle difficult issues like extending health care to the uninsured and effect reform of Social Security. Below, Heritage Foundation experts offer their bids for policy priorities that should to be part of the President's speech to the American people on Tuesday.

Homeland Security

  • The United States is more prepared to combat terrorism today than it was on September 11, 2001, but much still remains to be done. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security on January 24 is the first, not the final, step in developing a program to secure the United States from attack. The country needs an enduring domestic security program, including appropriate institutional and legislative reforms at all levels of government. Effectively managing the transition to the Department of Homeland Security must remain a top priority for 2003. However, a balance must constantly be sought between protecting America's people and protecting those fundamental rights and civil liberties that make us Americans.
  • Establish an intelligence fusion center in the DHS. The best way to solve the problems identified by the joint House-Senate inquiry into the September 11 terrorist attacks would be to remove authority for deciding what information should be shared from the agencies that collect it. The DHS should develop and deploy an information technology infrastructure that links and fuses intelligence and law enforcement terrorism databases. Doing so would ensure that all federal, state, and local officials with anti-terrorism roles have access to the information they require. To ensure information sharing and protect security, the DHS should provide security clearances for relevant state officials, providing them access to intelligence information. Such action will facilitate cooperation in federal and state crisis response and law enforcement activities.

For more information, contact Michael Scardaville at (202) 608-6057.


  • Increase defense spending over the long term to make up for past deficiencies and to support force modernization. The U.S. armed forces were underfunded for much of the 1990s. The result has been readiness problems, aging equipment, and technological stagnation in much of the force. The American public must be reminded that recent increases in defense spending only begin to reverse the problem and that modernizing the force requires sustained funding.
  • Focus urgently on military transformation. We must resist the temptation to assume that because our current force has been successful in Afghanistan, it is sufficient for future operations. Most of our force was built for conventional war in Europe. We are engaged in a conflict that requires the ability to identify and strike global targets with precision. Often these targets may be among civilian populations and against enemies far superior to the Taliban. Our current force is not built for this environment. The U.S. military must be transformed into an agile force that can be projected very quickly to operate in a variety of combat environments with superior firepower, information, and technology.

For more information, contact Jack Spencer at (202) 608-6124.

Missile Defense

  • Work to end the vulnerability of the American people and the allies to missile attack. This is the reason why, on June 13, 2002, the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. With the restrictions of the treaty no longer in place, U.S. research and development has progressed to the point where on December 17, 2002, the President was able to order the deployment of an initial, limited ballistic missile defense system by late 2004. The United States should build on this initial capability by deploying additional ballistic missile defense components on land, at sea, in the air, and in space.
  • Arms control is an essential part of U.S. nonproliferation policy and an important tool for protecting national security. The Bush Administration is establishing a new model for arms control. In the past, the success of arms control too often has been defined in terms of accommodating the demands of threatening regimes and not in terms of improving American national security. It should be judged on the basis of the agreements it produces and their enforcement, not in the value of the process. This is why the Administration was able to conclude the Moscow Treaty with Russia for reductions in offensive nuclear weapons, which clearly strengthens the national security of the United States, in a fraction of the time required to negotiate other major arms control agreements. The President should call on the Senate to consent to the ratification of the Moscow Treaty, free of extraneous conditions, as soon as possible.

For more information, contact Baker Spring at (202) 608-6112.

International Terrorism

  • Grind down Al-Qaeda in a relentless war. Although Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network has been disrupted by the U.S. military victory in Afghanistan and the overthrow of its Taliban protectors, it has regrouped and remains a potent threat to the United States and its allies. The Bush Administration must lead an international effort to hunt down, capture, or kill bin Laden and his top lieutenants; infiltrate their cells wherever possible; cut off the flow of their funds; and unravel their support network.
  • Win the peace in Afghanistan. The U.S. decisively won the military battle in Afghanistan and now must consolidate the peace to prevent the return of Islamic extremism. It must bolster the fledgling Karzai government and help train the Afghan Army, rebuild the shattered infrastructure to jump-start the economy, and build a stable democracy there that does not export Islamic extremism, terrorism, or drugs.

For more information, contact Jim Phillips at (202) 608-6119.

The United Nations

  • Develop a pragmatic relationship with the United Nations. Americans value the founding ideals of the U.N. Charter, but the United Nations has not proven to be a reliable champion for those ideals because many members of that body are not. Examples of this lack of leadership include Libya's chairmanship of the U.N. Human Rights Commission despite its own record of human rights abuse and the failure of the body to condemn the brutal regime of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Therefore, America must develop a relationship with the United Nations that seeks to work with the organization when possible and necessary for American interests, but that is not constrained by U.N. approval when action is needed.

For more information, contact Brett Schaefer at (202) 608-6123.

Europe and NATO

  • Challenge the leaders of Europe to join the U.S. in pushing for agricultural liberalization in an effort to make Doha remembered historically as the development trade deal. It is time for our friends in Europe to put their money where their mouths are. Trade and not aid are commonly acknowledged as the genuine hope of the future for the developing world; the cap stops this from happening.
  • Urge the Europeans to make good on their promises to improve and modernize their militaries. The 2002 Prague summit held the bright promise of updating NATO to suit the needs of the new era we live in. A robust enlargement occurred, and a new rapid deployment force was agreed to, as a step in the process of seeing that the alliance remains interoperable. 2003 is the year the Europeans must commit themselves to increase their defense budgets and implement the reforms needed to see that the promise of Prague is secured.

For more information, contact John Hulsman at (202) 608-6086.

Russia And Eurasia

  • Recognize Russia's contribution to the war against terrorism in voting with the United States on U.N. Security Council resolution 1441. Iraq owes Russia an old debt, and the U.S. government should work with the next Iraqi government to take steps to repay it.
  • Encourage Russia to continue cooperating in increasing its oil production.
  • Discourage Russia's nuclear industry from supplying dual-use nuclear technology to Iran-a prime sponsor of terrorism. Nuclear-armed Iran will be a threat to the whole world, including Russia. This shortsighted trade must be stopped.

For more information, contact Ariel Cohen at (202) 608-6117.

South and Southeast Asian Security

  • Encourage Pakistan and India to adopt substantial institutional controls, develop responsible doctrine, and conform to international agreements on their nuclear weapons.
  • Continue to push the countries of Southeast Asia to cooperate with each other on the war on terrorism. Southeast Asia must respond to the challenge of combating terrorism. Al-Qaeda cells and their affiliates are scattered throughout the region, and the governments of the region must work together, with the United States, to bring them to justice.
  • The United States is successfully promoting economic development in South and Southeast Asia through trade. Washington recently completed negotiations on a free trade agreement with Singapore, has begun similar negotiations with Australia, and intends to expand trade with other countries. Expanded trade relations, especially with India and Indonesia, the world's second and fourth most populous countries, will be mutually beneficial.

For more information, contact Dana Dillon at (202) 608-6133.

Asian Security

  • Insist that China do more to end proliferation activities, reduce its military threat to Taiwan, respect human rights, and open its markets.

For more information, contact John Tkacik at (202) 608-6103.

Northeast Asian Security

  • Demand that North Korea verifiably dismantle its nuclear programs. North Korea's reckless violations of its nuclear weapons obligations are an affront to the nonproliferation framework, not merely a challenge to the United States.
  • The challenge of North Korea must also be borne by the United Nations, China, and Russia.
  • Promote strengthened U.S. alliances in Asia. The major naval, air, sea, and special operations contributions to this global campaign against terrorism from Japan, Australia, South Korea, and other friends and allies in Asia are proof that these alliances are stronger than ever.
  • Enhance the U.S.-Korean alliance. The alliance remains strong as it enters its 50th year. The United States' and Korea's leaders are convinced that this alliance is a cornerstone of peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

For more information, contact Balbina Hwang at (202) 608-6134.

The Middle East

  • Isolate and undermine the axis of evil. Washington should seek to maintain tight economic sanctions against Tehran and relentlessly pressure it to halt its support of terrorism and religious fanaticism while encouraging democratic reform.
  • Fight terrorism, which has flourished in the Middle East and metastasized to become a global threat because it has enjoyed the support of state sponsors such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Sudan. Saudi Arabia has been a financial enabler. In the long run, the U.S. should support democratic opposition forces in these countries to gain power and halt support for terrorism.

For more information, contact Jim Phillips at (202) 608-6119.


  • Disarm Iraq, by force if necessary. Saddam Hussein has thumbed his nose at the U.N. Security Council for 12 years. If he continues to default on his disarmament obligations, the United States should prod the Security Council to enforce its own resolutions. If the Security Council fails to follow through again to enforce its resolutions, the United States must do the right thing and lead a coalition of the willing to disarm Iraq and destroy its prohibited weapons. A byproduct of this will likely be to end the regime of Saddam Hussein.

For more information, contact Jim Phillips at (202) 608-6119.

Latin America

  • Support deeper development of democratic institutions by backing Latin American efforts to enhance checks and balances on autocratic presidencies, ensure direct representation of constituents, define the role of local government, and establish the rule of law. Despots and would-be dictators like Cuba's Fidel Castro, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, and Haiti's Jean Bertrand-Aristide represent the past, not the future, of Latin America.
  • Encourage economic reform by switching U.S. development priorities from health and environmental goals to promoting free-market reforms that will reduce government intervention in local economies and make it easier for small businesses to get a start. Only markets can provide opportunities for lasting prosperity and help cultivate strong trade partnerships to support other goals such as improving public health and environmental stewardship.
  • Promote regional cooperation on emerging security priorities. The current U.S. approach favors training, equipping, and exercising with Latin American militaries. While that is still important, America needs to foster cooperation between civilian and military agencies on a regional basis to combat new international crime and terrorism threats that transcend traditional military response.

For more information, contact Steve Johnson at (202) 608-6126.


  • Continue efforts like the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which opens the U.S. market to African entrepreneurs, and the Millennium Challenge Account, which rewards nations that embrace policies that contribute to development including economic freedom, the rule of law and good governance, and investing in health and education. But America cannot force governments to adopt policies that lead to development: African nations themselves must enact these changes if they are to realize the promise of development.

For more information, contact Brett Schaefer at (202) 608-6123.

Trade Policy

  • Negotiate more free-trade agreements and exert leadership in the World Trade Organization. Agriculture is crucial to the Doha Round. The United States should lead by example and liberalize agriculture by lowering tariffs and cutting subsidies.
  • The United States should likewise put an end to the protection of steel and textiles.

For more information, contact Sara Fitzgerald at (202) 608-6079.

The Millennium Challenge Account

  • Reward, through the Millennium Challenge Account, developing countries that govern justly, invest in the health and education of their people, and promote economic freedom.

For more information, contact Brett Schaefer at (202) 608-6123.

Tax Reform: Reducing the Burden of Taxation

  • Ending the double taxation of dividends is the crown jewel of the tax package, but the President also is calling for other important reforms. The plan would immediately implement the 2004 and 2006 tax rate reductions, for instance, and the tax on small business investment would be reduced (the "expensing" provision). These proposals will help America's economy grow faster because they focus on supply-side principles such as reducing tax rates on work, saving, and investment. Proposals that simply give people money, by contrast, such as rebates and credits, do not lower the price of productive behavior and therefore have little or no positive impact on economic performance.

For more information, contact Dan Mitchell at (202) 608-6224.

The Federal Budget

  • The federal budget is about priorities. The nation's first priority, protecting its citizens from terrorism, requires fully funding America's defense and homeland security needs. Tax relief will help achieve the second priority of removing obstacles to economic growth and job creation. For America to fund defense and relieve the tax burden without increasing the budget deficit, reducing spending elsewhere must be the third priority. Leadership requires making the difficult and necessary decisions to reduce spending for lower-priority programs, even those protected by special interests.

For more information, contact Brian Riedl at (202) 608-6201.

Education: Give Every Child the Opportunity to Attend a Quality School

  • Less than a third of American fourth and eighth graders are proficient in math, reading, science, or history, according to national tests. The news is even bleaker for low-income, minority, and special-needs children. Policies that give all children the opportunity to attend a quality school must be adopted. Vouchers for poor students and those with disabilities will give vulnerable populations access to quality public and private schools. The reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other legislation will give the President and Congress the opportunity to make significant reform.

For more information, contact Krista Kafer at (202) 608-6223.

Reality-Based Scoring

  •       Encourage the congressional leadership to instruct Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office to use reality-based economic models when estimating the fiscal effects of tax policy changes. The President should then demand that the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget do the same.

For more information, contact Bill Beach at (202) 608-6206.

Social Security: Improving Retirement Income

  • Following the success of 2002 candidates who openly supported his position on Social Security reform, President Bush will reaffirm during his January 28, 2003, State of the Union speech that allowing workers to invest a portion of their existing payroll taxes remains a key Administration priority. Social Security is rapidly approaching a financial crisis. Younger and minority workers will receive very poor returns on their payroll taxes. In addition, today's Social Security does not allow families to create wealth that could be used to improve their economic status. Workers must be allowed to invest a large part of their existing retirement taxes in personal retirement accounts. Also, a reformed Social Security must include minimum benefit standards and not reduce the benefits of current retirees or those who are close to retirement.

For more information, contact David John at (202) 608-6229.

Health Care: Increasing Choices and Improving Care

  • Policy initiatives, such as tax credits and Medicare reform, should be based on advancing the principles of personal ownership, patient choice, and free market competition.

For more information, contact Nina Owcharenko at (202) 608-6221.

Energy and Environment: Affordable Energy and Clean Air

  •        The availability of energy at reasonable prices is key to economic growth and national security. The nation can have reliable, affordable, and sufficient supplies of energy without destroying the environment. Air quality has improved over the past three decades as energy use and gross domestic product have increased. New technologies, not drastic cuts in emissions that would suppress energy production, are the key to enhanced air quality and a robust economy.

For more information, contact Charli Coon at (202) 608-6139.


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