Health Care, Energy to Top Bush's State Speech In his State of the Union address, President Bush is expected to seek support from Congress for his buildup of U.S. forces in Baghdad. So far, the plan has attracted resistance from Democrats and even some key Republicans. The president will also seek support for lowering the cost of health insurance and decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
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Health Care, Energy to Top Bush's State Speech

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Health Care, Energy to Top Bush's State Speech

Health Care, Energy to Top Bush's State Speech

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

When President Bush gives his State of the Union speech tonight, he will stand for the first time before a Congress under full Democratic control. He also gives the address at a time when his own standing in the polls is at its lowest point. Battered by difficulties in the war in Iraq, the president will try to persuade members of his own party not to desert his plan for a troop increase.

Joining us for a preview of tonight's speech is NPR's David Greene. And, David, the White House has been putting a lot of information all day today about the speech. Lots of issues will be discussed this evening, but the big question on most people's mind has to be Iraq.

DAVID GREENE: There's no doubt about that. Polls show Americans are thinking about the war more than anything else. The president, we're told, will not be rehashing the prime time address he gave recently laying out his new proposal. But according to excerpts the White House chose itself and released this evening, Mr. Bush will say he's considered every possible approach before deciding to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

The idea for more troops, of course, is one that even many prominent members of his own party oppose right now.

NORRIS: So, he's gonna talk about Iraq. But he's also going to talk about his domestic agenda. Maybe try to get some momentum going. What's on the top of that agenda?

GREENE: Yeah, well he'll actually begin his speech, we're told, with a welcome to the new Congress and especially to the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. And really watch the body language at that moment, because there was a terse exchange between Pelosi and the White House over Iraq just last week.

It sounds like the president's going to try to strike a friendly tone with a Congress that now, of course, is wholly controlled by the other party.

NORRIS: It also sounds like the president is going to tick through some very specific proposals. The White House says that we should expect the president to be bold this evening.

GREENE: That's right. And where they say he will be bold is in the area of energy. He's going to be talking about the fuel economy standards for cars and calling for Americans to use less gasoline in their cars. He's going to talk about a new proposal to encourage more Americans to get health insurance.

We're expecting Mr. Bush to say that five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass an education law, and he's going to ask lawmakers if he can have that bipartisan spirit again. Of course, there's no telling if Democrats are ready to play ball at this point.

NORRIS: David, an interesting note. We hear that President Bush will not talk about Hurricane Katrina, neither the damage nor the victims tonight. If that's true, why would that be?

GREENE: It's an interesting question. And we can't be sure. I would imagine you and I both know the situation in New Orleans, perhaps is that the White House decided there's nothing, or not enough positive to report, so why bring it up? But in one symbolic move, the first lady has invited the founder of the New Orleans nonprofit that helps at-risk youth to sit her box with her during the speech.

NORRIS: There's always a lot of theatre at these State of the Union speeches, how many times the members rise to their feet, how often they applaud. We'll be watching that for sort of interesting signs this evening.

GREENE: Absolutely. It's almost like a game, when you've been through these speeches before, to see when the applause comes, if there are any jeers. Something like Mr. Bush's immigration policy. He wants a guest worker plan. That's something Democrats like. Let's see if the Democrats actually give him warm applause.

When he turns to Iraq, let's see if it's respectful. Let's see how welcoming the Democrats are. So something to definitely watch tonight now that we have a Democratic-controlled Congress.

NORRIS: And definitely watch because of the election in November that cost the GOP full control of the Congress, but more recently, the further erosion of the president's standing in the polls, as we mentioned. What stands out for you most when you look at those numbers?

GREENE: If there was one poll number that really stood out, his standing is lower, but the Wall Street Journal had a poll which said that only 22 percent of Americans want the president basically steering the car. More Americans want Congress to run the show. So not a lot of incentive for Democrats to actually work with the president's agenda.

NORRIS: Thank you, David.

GREENE: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR's White House correspondent, David Greene.

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