State of the Union Preview: Back to Bush's Agenda President Bush will deliver his final State of the Union address Monday night, seeking to steer attention back to his administration as the economy sputters and the 2008 presidential campaign reaches a fever pitch.
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State of the Union Preview: Back to Bush's Agenda

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State of the Union Preview: Back to Bush's Agenda

State of the Union Preview: Back to Bush's Agenda

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Tonight, President Bush delivers his final State of the Union Address. It's a moment that two-term presidents often use to frame their legacies and to rally their supporters.

The president is expected to highlight his package of tax rebates and business incentives aimed at jumpstarting the economy. He'll also take aim at congressional earmarks and for more of what he's likely to say, we're joined by NPR's Brian Naylor.

Brian, we've been getting some early word about what will be in the president's speech. What else can you tell us?

BRIAN NAYLOR: Well, Robert, a couple of things this afternoon were released by the White House. The president is going to propose spending some $300 million to help faith-based and parochial schools in inner-city neighborhoods. He's going to propose eliminating some 150 federal programs and will call on lawmakers to cut by half the number of earmarks or face a veto of their spending bills. These last two are kind of, you know, chestnuts to come up every so often. And I think it's indicative of the fact that this is the president's final year in office and there are not going to be a lot of big new initiatives.

SIEGEL: Well, in terms of the big picture, a theme perhaps, what should we be listening for?

NAYLOR: Well, I think the president is going to try to redirect attention on his presidency. Frankly, there's a lot of focus on who is going to succeed him, a spirited race on the part of both parties, and there's a lot of discouragement or disincentive to pay attention to the White House. People are not - are tired of the war in Iraq, they're worried about the economy and all, by all accounts, they're ready for a change. So the president I think is going to be trying to get the attention back to his agenda, focusing a lot on the economy and concerns about a recession.

SIEGEL: Congress takes up the president's economic stimulus package tomorrow and the Senate tellingly sends it to committee. Does that mean that the Senate will not do what the president would like, which is pass it very quickly with no changes?

NAYLOR: I think that's right. The Senate says they want to put their two cents into or probably a whole lot more than that. It looks like the Senate is going to add on spending to seniors, low-income seniors who are not included in this original stimulus proposal. They're going to extend unemployment benefits by all accounts. I think though that this is going to - so this will have to go back to the House. But I think that the changes if they keep them to that level are probably not going to slow the package down significantly. And I don't think that they'll provoke a presidential veto.

SIEGEL: Okay. Let's take up some other things we're likely to hear about. Obviously, spending earmarks and what's wrong with them will be something the president will talk about, I assume.

NAYLOR: Right. He'll talk about the earmarks. He's also going to talk, of course, about Iraq. He's probably going to say that progress is being made in Iraq and warn Congress against trying to put a timetable on for further withdrawal of U.S. forces.

He's also expected to push Congress to approve the FISA program that authorizes the warrantless wiretaps of suspected terrorists. That program is authorized only through the end of this month, and Congress is currently debating whether to extend it temporarily or permanently.

SIEGEL: Here's a president, though, who has given State of the Union addresses fresh from electoral victories, just a couple of months after 9/11 in one case. This time, he's appearing in the last year of his presidency and not a very popular president. Does he have any political capital left to put behind these ideas of his?

NAYLOR: Yeah. It certainly is a different picture than what we've seen in the past. And I don't think he does have much capital. His poll numbers are abysmal. It's the final year of his administration. He's facing a Democratic Congress that doesn't want to implement a lot of Republican proposals.

Having said that, though, that's not to say that he's not relevant, he proved that last year. He was able to keep Congress from cutting troops in Iraq. He was able to keep the budget at about the level that he wanted. So he does have the veto pen. But this is an election year. Congress doesn't want to get involved in a lot of new programs. They're more worried about their reelection and who's going to succeed George Bush.

So you're not going to see a lot done this year, I don't think.

SIEGEL: Well, we'll stay tuned. Thank you, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Brian Naylor at the Capitol. And you can hear President Bush's State of the Union speech tonight on many NPR stations and at npr.org, where we'll also be fact-checking the president's remarks.

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