A challenging State of the Union
Feb. 2, 2002
President Bush's State of the Union Message presented some challenging work for Senators, work which I know most Mississippians want accomplished, such as winning the war on terrorism, protecting our homeland and revitalizing our economy.
His speech reflected the very different America in which we live today. The events of Sept. 11 have redefined America, causing President Bush, members of Congress and indeed all Americans to redefine ourselves and establish new priorities.
Winning the war on terror
The President reminded us that our fight against international terrorism began in Afghanistan, but it cannot end there.
International terrorists are just that international. They know no political or moral ideology. They are not tied to any specific religion, nor are they members of any specific race. They are simply fanatics who must be combated anywhere they appear. President Bush again reaffirmed his commitment to protecting America from chemical and biological attacks.
As our troops have combed Afghanistan, they have found mounting evidence that terrorists desperately want these weapons. Therefore America has two tasks: preventing terrorists from obtaining these weapons, and protecting Americans from these attacks, just in case. The President is committed to both.
Sept. 11 made us more aware that police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are front line soldiers. Overall, the President's budget for FY 2003 will almost double spending to secure our homeland. This includes a proposal to dramatically enhance the response capabilities of America's first responders.
Out of the 1 million firefighters in America, about 750,000 are volunteers. Rural states like Mississippi depend heavily on volunteer firefighters, local sheriffs, small police departments and county EMS personnel, but often these men and women have significant disadvantages in terms of equipment and resources.
In addition to new equipment, this increase will provide our nation's firefighters, its 436,000 sworn police officers and our 186,000 sworn sheriffs and their deputies with more funds for training. It will also foster better interaction between local, state and federal law enforcement and emergency agencies.
I recently visited the sheriffs of three Mississippi counties who are on the front line of the "first alert" system, guarding against terrorists and international crime. I can tell you that our emergency responders truly need additional resources.
Border security too is an important aspect of America's security. The U.S. has 7,500 miles of border, shared with Canada and Mexico. Today, out of the 500 million people admitted to the U.S. annually, 330 million are non-citizens. On top of that, more than 11 million trucks, 2 million rail cars and 7,500 foreign-flag ships make 51,000 port calls annually at America's ports, including the ports of Gulfport and Pascagoula.
President Bush is requesting more than $2 billion for border security. Using more agents, new technology and better tracking of non-U.S. citizens entering and exiting the U.S. certainly makes sense, especially in light of new reports surfacing this week which suggest terrorists may still be plotting attacks on our homeland.
This President made it clear that he was committed to getting our economy going again. He summed it up in one word: jobs. President Bush and I both understand that a supply of good jobs can fix a lot of economic problems. The President made it clear that economic stability also depends on other factors including better education, good access to health care and prescription drugs, the implementation of a national energy policy and new markets for American products through expanded trade. America's workers want more than an unemployment check. They want a regular paycheck.
President Bush's priorities reflect the priorities of the American people, and they were a challenge to the U.S. Senate, where much of this work remains unfinished. I hope the Senate puts partisan politics aside, and heeds the President's challenge to do what's right for all Americans.