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Obama Thanks Veterans, Calls for Unity as U.S. War in Iraq Ends

President Barack Obama said Americans should honor the end of the war in Iraq and returning U.S. troops by setting aside political differences to respond to economic challenges.

“This is a moment for us to build a country that lives up to the ideals that so many of our bravest Americans have fought and even died for,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “That is our highest obligation as citizens. That is the welcome home that our troops deserve.”

In his appeal for unity, the president said, “There’s a reason our military is the most respected institution in America. They don’t see themselves or each other as Democrats first or Republicans first. They see themselves as Americans first.”

On Dec. 15, a ceremony in Baghdad marked the end of the Iraq war that began in 2003. A day earlier, Obama visited Fort Bragg in North Carolina to address recently returned troops.

Obama taped his radio address yesterday, as congressional lawmakers were in final negotiations over a $1 trillion spending bill to avert a U.S. government shutdown. Lawmakers also reached agreement on plans to extend a payroll-tax cut that would otherwise expire at year’s end and increase workers’ payroll taxes by 2 percentage points.

Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate said last night they had reached an agreement in principle on a plan to extend the payroll-tax cut through February.

Oil Pipeline

The plan also includes a provision, which Obama opposes, to expedite approval of a Canadian oil pipeline that divides his Democratic base. Some Democrats oppose the pipeline because of environmental concerns while organized labor supports it.

Permitting for TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline could go forward under the provision unless the Obama administration acts within 60 days to halt the process. The administration had earlier postponed until after the 2012 election a decision on the permit. The pipeline would link Canada’s oil sands with refineries in Texas.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said in the Republican radio and Internet response that when he spoke with Wyoming National Guard troops deployed overseas, during the Thanksgiving holiday, “What these soldiers were most concerned about was whether they would be able to find a good job when they return.”

Barrasso said the Keystone pipeline could help. He said the project could create as many as 20,000 construction jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs and transport 700,000 barrels of oil a day to U.S. refineries. He said the environmental groups that oppose the project are “extreme” and that the administration has delayed a permitting decision because Obama is “playing politics.”

“If the president successfully blocks these new jobs, it will only add to his long list of bad economic decisions for our country,” Barrasso said. “While the president may have inherited a bad economy, he has made it worse.

‘‘We need more from the White House than threats to veto a bill that would create 20,000 jobs for Americans.’’

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