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Bush Address To Hit Key Themes

A day after the first votes on Democrats who want to unseat him, President Bush will discuss familiar themes and past accomplishments in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

In contrast to last year's speech, in which the president opened the formal case for war in Iraq, any new policies proposed by the president were likely to concern domestic, rather than foreign, affairs.

A Republican operative close to the president's reelection campaign tells The New York Times that the timing of the speech is no accident: It is coming one day after the Iowa caucus in order to allow the president to put his stamp on what campaign 2004 will be about — especially tax cuts and the war on terrorism.

But the speech comes as more Americans harbor doubts over the president's leadership, according to a CBS News poll.

After rising in public support following the capture of Saddam Hussein, the president's approval rating of 50 percent matches his lowest approval ratings ever, and the largest number ever – 45 percent — disapprove, according to the poll of 1,022 adults interviewed between Jan. 12-15.

Less than half of Americans now approve of how Mr. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, and 51 percent say the war was not worth the costs.

And two of the president's just-launched initiatives have met with negative public assessment. Most Americans oppose temporary work permits for illegal immigrants and do not think a permanent space station on the moon is worth it.

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 complete work on uncompleted agenda items.

"We're meeting our priorities at home and abroad," White House spokesman Scott 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."

Among the accomplishments Mr. Bush was expected to tout, according to 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.

But Democrats note that the president's tax cuts have helped swell the federal deficit to a projected $500 billion next year. The economy has lost about 2.3 million jobs since Mr. Bush took office in 2001, giving him the worst job-creation record of any president since Herbert Hoover. And Americans continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McClellan said that while Mr. Bush would propose some new initiatives, 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 is expected to propose new job-training grants for community colleges to help prepare American workers for today's economy — a key issue in November's presidential election.

In his address to Congress and the nation Tuesday night, Mr. Bush plans to announce at least $120 million in grants, administered by the Labor Department, to enhance work force training programs at community colleges, education officials said Sunday.

He also is expected to call for transforming what he views as ineffective government job-training programs in order to give workers skills for the jobs the economy is actually producing, and invigorate federal efforts on behalf of the needy by opening up more spending to religious groups.

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

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," an official said.

White House spokesman Taylor Gross said Mr. Bush worked on his speech for a couple of hours Sunday afternoon after having lunch with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice; Harriet Miers, deputy chief of staff for policy; and Karen Hughes, a former White House official and one of Mr. Bush's closest advisers, who flew in from Texas to help with the address.

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