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Bush's State of Union Address Unlikely to End Divide Between Democrats and Republicans


As he approaches his annual State of the Union Address Tuesday, President Bush faces criticism from opposition Democrats challenging him over such issues as domestic surveillance in the war on terrorism. At the same time, he has momentum from recent positive economic figures, and says he will urge Congress to act on key items on his domestic agenda.

In his last State of the Union address President Bush was riding the wave of the 2004 election victory over Democrat John Kerry, which gave Mr. Bush a second four-year term in the White House.

He vowed to take advantage of "political capital" to accomplish his domestic agenda in the Republican-controlled Congress.

However, his most ambitious objective of 2005, reform of the U.S. Social Security pension system, made little progress after facing strong opposition from Democrats and significant resistance from within his own Republican party.

Although the administration had a number of legislative accomplishments in 2005 on energy and other issues, it also had to deal with scandals and investigations.

These included the CIA leak case, in which top White House adviser Lewis Libby was indicted and an ongoing federal investigation into bribery and corruption involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and members of Congress.

Mr. Bush is likely to point to voting successes in Iraq, and progress in Afghanistan. But lawmakers remain divided over U.S. strategies there and in the war on terrorism.

In a meeting with reporters earlier this week, the president provided a glimpse of the major themes he will address in his State of the Union message, including health care, tax reduction and energy, as well as the war on terrorism and homeland security, and he appealed in advance to Democrats for cooperation. "I recognize this is an election year, but I believe that we can work together to achieve results. In other words, I think we can set aside the partisanship that inevitably will come with an election year and get some stuff done. And that is what I am going to call Congress to do," he said.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist echoes President Bush's appeal on the issue of eliminating abuses in lobbying. "I am pleading for bipartisanship. It should not be a partisan issue. We need to work together," he said.

But as they made clear this past week, some Democrats do not believe there is much basis for cooperation.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid took the president to task on everything from the war on terrorism to the economy. "George Bush has no one to blame but himself for this fiscal mess. Not [the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks], not a weak economy, and certainly not the Democrats. Democrats want to return to responsible fiscal policies, those we had in the 1990's led by Bill Clinton, that yielded a budget surplus year after year," he said.

Top White House political adviser Karl Rove also spoke this week about the administration's goals and about divisions between the Democrats and Republicans. "At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views of the world, and fundamentally different views of national security. Republicans have a post-September 11 view of the world. Democrats have a pre-September 11 view of the world. That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong," he said.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, says the 2006 Republican agenda includes such major issues as renewing the Patriot Act anti-terror law and immigration reform. "It's a full plate. But I am confident we will get it done and then move on to other legislative priorities that will help the economy stay strong, keep our job base growing, and our nation secure," he said.

But whether Republicans would like to be able to focus on those goals, they are sure to have to deal with several controversial issues.

President Bush has been forced repeatedly to defend his approval of what the administration now calls the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which targeted communications with suspected terrorists living in the United States. Democrats say the president may have violated the law when he bypassed a 1978 statute requiring a court warrant before the government can engage in domestic spying.

The controversial program will be the subject of Senate hearings early next month, but Mr. Bush defended it this week. "I have the authority, both from the Constitution and the Congress, to undertake this vital program. The American people expect me to protect their lives, and their civil liberties, and that is exactly what we are doing with this program," he said.

Republicans and the White House are also bracing for new developments, including possible indictments, in the Abramoff influence-pedaling investigation, amid hopes that legislation on the issue can be ready by the end of February.

In the House, prospects for the president's agenda depend on the effectiveness of a new Republican leadership in that chamber, after a February 2 election to replace Congressman Tom DeLay, who was forced to step down last year after criminal charges were brought against him in Texas.

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