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Bush Seeks Boost From Big Speech

State of the Union Preparation
White House photo by Eric Draper
The stakes couldn't be higher for President Bush. He's had a rough first year of his second term, but tonight he'll use his fifth State of the Union address to garner support from the Republican-controlled Congress and the American people on domestic and foreign initiatives, CBS News senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante reports.

The president was spending the day putting the finishing touches on his speech. The address had gone through more than 30 drafts and was undergoing final editing at the White House, where Mr. Bush got a morale boost with the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

But any way you look at it, 2005 was a lousy year for the president: Iraq, Katrina and Social Security. Tonight, the president tries to change the subject and get back on offense.

"I'm looking forward to speaking to the country. We've got a lot to be proud of. We've got a lot of work to do," Mr. Bush has said of the speech.

This year is most likely the president's last chance to get any major legislation through Congress.


Watch President Bush's speech live on CBSNews.com at 9 p.m. ET.


"For a two-term president after the November elections in the middle of your second term, things start going downhill and you really do start quacking like a duck," said David Gergen, a Republican who has served as an adviser to Democratic and GOP presidents.

So, no more calls for Social Security reform, which went nowhere last year. This year, the highlight of the president's speech will be health care. It's a popular issue: more than 60 percent in the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll (.pdf) say government should guarantee health insurance for all.

But the president's focus will be on cost control rather than universal coverage. Mr. Bush is expected to call for new tax deductions for medical spending, an expansion of health savings accounts and rules to make it easier for small businesses to get covered.

Energy, education, trade and the economy will also be on the president's agenda tonight, but with a deficit between $300 billion and $400 billion, there will be no new big-ticket initiatives.

Look for the president to continue vigorously defending his policy in Iraq and the National Security Agency's controversial eavesdropping operation.

Politics, of course, is also on the president's agenda.

"This State of the Union could be quite important in trying to regain the offensive politically and keep Republicans in control of the House and Senate," said Gergen.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are already trying to blunt any political gains Mr. Bush might make from the speech.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the president's plan to expand health savings accounts has too many drawbacks. She asserted that the plan will not cut health care costs and will increases the deficit.

Pelosi also said the administration cannot decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil because key executive branch figures, including the president, "are oil and gas men."

The official Democratic response to the president's speech was being delivered by Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, considered a rising star in the party after winning office last year in a Southern state that went for Mr. Bush in 2004. Democrats hope to replicate his victory in congressional elections.