Bush seeks to rally support for his agenda in State of the Union address - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Bush seeks to rally support for his agenda in State of the Union address

The final State of the Union of the Bush presidency will be roughly split between domestic and foreign matters. The final State of the Union of the Bush presidency will be roughly split between domestic and foreign matters.


WASHINGTON (AP) - It's about the economy, and the war in Iraq, and other unresolved matters that have kept the nation on edge. But President Bush's State of the Union address on Monday is something else, too: probably his last chance to seize the public's attention and put it to use.

Bush will pressure Congress - particularly the Senate, where he senses trouble - to finish an economic stimulus package fast. The president will talk of improved security in Iraq and reassert that he - and only he - decides when U.S. troops will come home. He will offer some modest new ideas and recycle others as unfinished business.

In one new announcement, Bush will try to reduce the use of earmarks, a common Capitol Hill practice of slipping pet projects into spending bills. He will pledge to veto any spending bill that does not cut earmarks in half from levels spelled out in the current budget.

Bush also plans to sign an executive order on Tuesday directing agencies to ignore any future earmarks that are not actually written into law, but rather tucked into obscure "report" language. The White House says the move will force Congress to make its spending more transparent.

However, that plans leaves untouched the more than 11,700 earmarks totaling $16.9 billion that Congress approved last year.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush decided to restrict earmarks going forward - not backward - because Congress first deserved "a very clear indication of what he was going to do."

The final State of the Union of the Bush presidency will be roughly split between domestic and foreign matters. Expect few surprises and no big initiatives. To the degree the speech favors the pragmatic over the bold, the White House offers a two-word explanation: Blame Congress.

Bush's efforts to overhaul Social Security and immigration died on Capitol Hill, but not just because of Democratic opposition. He also ran into walls put up by members of his own party. Heading into the speech, White House press secretary Dana Perino said it is unrealistic to expect Congress to take on big problems.

The White House strategy now is to go after what's left of that elusive common ground; Bush has 12 months remaining, and an even shorter window for legislation this election year. So he will push Congress to pass some short-term economic aid and make permanent his first-term tax cuts, which are due to expire in 2010.

He also will call for housing reform, better health care and veterans' care, alternative energy development and renewal of the No Child Left Behind education law.

The domestic section of Bush's speech will also remind the nation of his ideas on climate change, faith-based programs and stem cell research. When he pivots to foreign matters, Bush will emphasize progress in Iraq, and repeat that troop withdrawals will happen when they won't undermine Iraq's success.

He will also comment on Iran, Middle East peace, the spread of democracy and the U.S.-led fight against disease and hunger in poorer nations.

Bush also does not plan to turn the speech into a retrospective look at his time in office.

"I can understand how many people, especially those that cover the president in the press, could see that the president would approach this as his legacy speech," Perino said. "But no, not at all. This is a very forward-looking speech."

A pervasive current of the address will be trusting and empowering Americans. It is a theme Bush has wanted to emphasize in a speech for months.

Of course, the buzz about town concerns the next presidency, not this one.

As long as he commands the military and retains veto power, Bush remains relevant. Yet his clout is slipping. That is the political reality given his approval ratings, which are near the worst of his presidency, and his outsider role in the campaign for the 2008 presidential nominations.

The top Democratic contenders, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, will be on hand. Those two alone will draw most of the reaction shots shown on television. A leading Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, is staying in Florida, where Tuesday's Republican primary will shorten Bush's news cycle.

Ahead of the speech, top Democrats sought to frame expectations for it.

"As we await President Bush's final State of the Union address Monday night we know one thing for sure: that cherished faith in America has been greatly diminished, and with it, our ability to respond to the critical challenges that threaten our security," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Bush's tone will vary by topic.

On the economy, he's expected to praise the bipartisan deal that his administration brokered with House leaders. It would provide rebate checks to 117 million families and $50 billion in incentives for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

Senators, however, want to add elements, like boosting food stamp or unemployment benefits, that they say will produce more meaningful change. 

The speech gives Bush a way to urge the Senate not to delay - an idea that might resonate with millions of anxious families.

Bush's language is expected to be tougher when it comes to something else he wants from Congress: the extension of a law that allows surveillance of suspected terrorists. The current eavesdropping law, which allows government surveillance of phone calls and e-mails involving people in the United States, expires Friday. Bush is clashing with the Senate leadership over safeguards as well as legal immunity for telecommunications companies that helped the government spy on American citizens.

The Senate is expected to take a key vote on the bill just hours before Bush speaks, so the White House may adjust the speech on the fly. Otherwise, the address is essentially locked down at roughly 40 minutes long, not counting interruptions for applause.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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