Sunday, January 29, 2006

President Bush, coming off a period of his lowest approval ratings among Americans since taking office, will seek to seize back the agenda tomorrow night when he delivers his sixth State of the Union address.

The speech will be heavy on thematics — the White House catchword is “optimism” — but with fewer specific initiatives than previous addresses, a senior administration official said. With the midterm congressional elections a little more than nine months away, the president will offer few ambitious initiatives, instead focusing on the battle against terrorism and improving the economy.

“There will be some new proposals, but it will be more thematic in nature, charting our path forward and laying the direction in which our country should be moving, both internationally and domestically,” the senior administration official said.

“America ought to be leading the way, working to shape events. We’re always better when we’re out there shaping events, rather than being shaped by them.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday that Mr. Bush’s speech “will reflect the priorities that the American people care most about,” but added that the speech will not be “a laundry list of proposals.”

The president will focus on Iraq and the economy, stressing his optimistic vision on both. He will offer new ways to deal with rising health care costs, press for the extension of tax cuts, push illegal immigration toward the top of his agenda and urge Congress to restrain spending.

He also will talk about national security and emerging threats, such as Iran. And he will push the use of renewable energy, such as ethanol, hydrogen and other fuels.

Some of the big initiatives Mr. Bush proposed last year, such as revamping Social Security and the U.S. tax code, were moved to the back burner after Congress shrugged off the proposals. This year, Mr. Bush will return to basics with core conservative issues, which include a recent threat to Congress to veto any spending bill that he finds excessive.

“I’m fully prepared to use a veto if they overspend,” the president told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “They’ve got a chance now to continue to show the American people that they’re willing to be — have fiscal discipline.”

But he can look for little help from a highly partisan Democratic Party in Congress, which has opposed many of his initiatives recently. The senior administration official said the president will make an explicit call on Democrats to join with him to advance issues dear to most Americans.

“I think we can set aside the partisanship that inevitably will come with an election year, and get some stuff done,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to call Congress to do.”

The president did a run-through Friday in the White House theater of the speech, which the official said has gone through a number “in the teens” of draft versions. He was expected to run through the speech again today, the official said.

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