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Bush to focus on education, economy

President Bush
Bush, shown here reading to third graders, plans to start the year with a focus on the economy and education.  

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush, enjoying a sky-high approval rating from the war on terrorism, plans to begin the New Year with a focus on a pair of domestic issues that a spokesman referred to as the "two E's" -- the economy and education.

Bush will begin touting that agenda during a West Coast road trip to California and Oregon Saturday and in his weekly radio address.

Scott McClellan, White House deputy press secretary, said the president's "first priority" this year will be urging Congress to pass what the White House now calls an "economic security" plan, a series of measures to help laid-off workers and tax cuts to give a boost to the economy.

The president's Saturday trip, which will include a town meeting in Ontario, California, and a visit to a career center in Portland, Oregon, will mark the first of a series of road trips around the country aimed at pressuring lawmakers to pass the economic stimulus package that stalled in Congress last year, aides said.

"The president's committed to continuing to work with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and getting this done as quickly as possible, "McClellan said.

"The main priority will be ... [to] help those workers during these difficult times who have been dislocated. ... These workers want a job. They want a paycheck."

Democrats are pushing for more federal spending to help laid-off workers with unemployment benefits and health care coverage and charge the GOP is pushing tax cuts that would benefit the wealthy and big business.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, plans a speech Friday in Washington to outline "a new growth agenda" for the economy, according to his office.

An excerpt of the speech released by Daschle's aides says, "Democrats see things differently. We support tax cuts that work -- but we want to make sure that any tax cuts we pass don't threaten the Social Security or Medicare reserves, crowd out other critical investments, or drive us deeper into debt."

The economy, according to a CNN/Time poll in late December, now tops terrorism as the main concern of Americans.

When Bush returns to Washington on Monday, he will meet with his economic team and at some point during the week sign into law the education reform bill that calls for new testing and accountability measures, McClellan said.

First, the president and first lady Laura Bush will travel to Austin, Texas, on Friday for the unveiling of Bush's portrait at the state capitol to commemorate his service as governor.

Bush received his normal national security briefings Thursday and planned to spend the day working on his ranch.

Earlier, he called Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso to talk about the situation in Argentina.

Bush also sent a letter that was delivered Thursday to Eduardo Duhalde, Argentine's fifth president in the span of two weeks, conveying that his administration would continue to work closely with Argentina as it deals with its economic and political crises.

The White House also announced that it is accelerating $959 million in economic aid to Egypt, a country the administration calls a "key partner" in the fight against terrorism and the search for peace in the Middle East.


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