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Programming note: Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn start CNN's coverage of Bush's State of the Union address at 7 p.m. ET in "The Situation Room."

Bush seeks State of the Union bounce

President 'upbeat,' set to focus on kitchen-table issues



Alternative Energy
George W. Bush
Oil and Gas

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will attempt to revive his presidency with an "upbeat" State of the Union address that stresses kitchen-table issues such as energy and health care, according to his spokesman.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday night's speech will be "optimistic and confident," centering around four new proposals.

McClellan would not disclose details -- but at a Cabinet meeting Monday morning, Bush said viewers can expect to hear him discuss health care, energy and education.

"I'm looking forward to speaking to the country," he said. "We got a lot to be proud of. We got a lot of work to do."

Presidential adviser Dan Bartlett said Bush will emphasize the need to "maintain our economic leadership" in an increasingly globalized age.

"Oftentimes, people look at these challenges and only see those challenges," Bartlett said. "The president sees opportunities, and the history of our country shows that America always does best when we are shaping the events of the world, not being shaped by them."

McClellan said Bush also will outline "the progress we're making in the global war on terrorism," the diplomatic standoff with Iran over its nuclear program and "the advance of freedom in the world."

Aides said Bush will propose long-term plans to promote alternative energy sources and take on an issue his critics say he has largely ignored for five years -- the rising cost of health care.

Among the items Bush will put forward, they said, are plans to expand tax deductions for medical expenses and allowing people to put more money in tax-deductible health savings accounts, a longstanding conservative idea.

"Big companies have all the big tax advantages and breaks to provide health care," Bartlett said. "But if you are mom and pop, they don't enjoy those same types of advantages, and they should."

Rough year

Bush said he is "upbeat" about the future, "so long as we're willing to lead." But the speech, set for 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, comes after a rough year for the president.

Support for the war in Iraq dropped, despite much-touted elections there, as American casualties climbed. A criminal investigation into the 2003 leak of a CIA agent's identity reached the White House, resulting in the indictment of the top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. One of Bush's Supreme Court nominees, longtime aide Harriet Miers, had to withdraw amid complaints from the president's conservative allies.

The administration's response to Hurricane Katrina was heavily criticized, fueling a slump in his approval ratings. And the signature issue of last year's State of the Union -- a wide-ranging overhaul of Social Security -- bombed in the polls, leading Bush to largely abandon the plan.

CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls have placed Bush's approval rating at 43 percent since mid-December.

David Gergen, a former adviser to presidents of both parties, said Bush is heading into Tuesday's speech with much to prove to the American public.

"Despite the strength of the economy, most people are feeling pressed," Gergen said. "And despite the president's upbeat view toward Iraq, most people are feeling it's not going well. So I think the danger is that he overstates his optimism, that he's not in touch with these underlying currents." (Watch a State of the Union forecast -- 3:24)

In addition, Republican control of Congress will be at stake in November's midterm elections. Democrats have been using the scandal surrounding high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff, an associate of several top GOP figures, to hammer at what they call a "culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said Tuesday's speech will be "a credibility test" for the president.

"Will he acknowledge the real state of our union and offer to take our country down a path that unites us and makes us stronger, or will he give us more of the same empty promises and partisanship that have weakened our country and divided Americans for the last five years?" Reid said.

McClellan said Bush wants to work with members of both parties to "elevate the tone" in Washington, "but it requires both parties reaching out to one another."

Bush also will continue his calls for Congress to renew the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act and make permanent the 2001 tax cuts, which McClellan said have built the foundation of an economic recovery.

McClellan argued that those tax cuts have brought in more revenue, and he blamed the rising federal deficit -- currently projected at $337 billion -- on "out-of-control spending" by Congress.

Reid expressed a different view Monday.

"The president squandered the strongest economy in the history of this country with reckless spending and irresponsible tax breaks for special interests and multimillionaires," he said.

Some congressional Republicans have also balked at the size of the deficits, particularly with $85 billion already committed to reconstruction efforts after Katrina.

Bush, who never has vetoed a spending bill, will insist that the government "continue to meet our highest priorities" but will call for spending restraint elsewhere, McClellan said.

Bush will follow up Tuesday's address with a series of speeches in February, McClellan said.

Those speeches will be delivered in Dallas, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee.; the Minneapolis suburb of Maplewood, Minnesota; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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