- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2004


In his State of the Union address, President Bush will insist his administration is successfully confronting the nation’s problems, but he will lay out an agenda focused on guiding the economy to even better times and aggressively waging the war on terror.

“We will continue to confront the challenges of our time, and we will continue to make America a more secure, more prosperous and more hopeful place,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address yesterday as he gave a stripped-down preview of his speech for Tuesday night.

The radio address wasn’t the only way the White House hinted at the messages Mr. Bush plans to deliver during one of his most important speeches in the run-up to the November presidential elections. White House press secretary Scott McClellan offered some highlights Friday in two press briefings and was joined by another White House official who described the speech’s preparation on condition of anonymity.

As described, the address will resemble in parts the one Mr. Bush delivers at campaign fund-raisers, in which he broadly celebrates accomplishments of his administration while making the argument for staying in office past 2004 to finish some agenda items.

“We’re meeting our priorities at home and abroad,” Mr. McClellan said. “There are big issues facing the American people, and this is a time that requires leadership to bring the country together around great goals and great challenges. It’s a time to unite the American people around big priorities.”

White House aides began working on the address in late October. By Friday, when Mr. Bush took part in high-level editing, the speech was in the “double-digit draft stage,” the unidentified official said.

More fine-tuning sessions were planned over the weekend at Camp David, with formal run-throughs in the White House theater on Monday and Tuesday.

Among the accomplishments Mr. Bush was expected to emphasize, said Mr. McClellan: $1.7 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years that the White House credits for the improving economy; a sweeping education law that imposes testing mandates on schools; a 10-year, $400 billion Medicare overhaul that provides prescription drug coverage to the elderly and injects private insurers into the government program; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that toppled hostile regimes, promoted democracy and confronted terrorism dangers; and the agreement with Libya to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.

“America continues to wage a relentless campaign against terrorists who threaten our country. … These terrorists are still dangerous, and we will stay on the hunt until they are destroyed,” Mr. Bush said in his radio remarks yesterday. “Here at home, we continue to build prosperity and economic security for our people.”

Mr. McClellan said Mr. Bush would propose some new initiatives, but much of the wish list going to Congress will look familiar, topped by a request for lawmakers not to let the already enacted tax cuts expire as planned.

The president also was to call for allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market and to address the rising cost of health care by capping awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.

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