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Bush Prepares for State of the Union Address

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President George Bush is expected to unveil his foreign and domestic policy initiatives for his second term when he delivers the State of the Union Address to Congress and the American people next Wednesday.

Unlike the president's inaugural address, which focused on the broad theme of expanding democracy around the world, the State of the Union Address is usually a much more detailed set of policy proposals touching on a range of issues.

The address stems from a requirement in the U.S. Constitution that the president shall, from time to time, give the Congress information on the State of the Union.

University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato says the State of the Union Address usually offers a better indication of where the president wants to take the country during the next few years.

"The Inaugural Address is always poetry, or at least attempted poetry," he says. "The State of the Union Address is the prose of a presidency. It has the details, what a president is really going to push for and a lot of hints are present in the State of the Union address that you never get in an Inaugural address."

The president's inaugural address generated a lot of comment overseas and American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman predicts Mr. Bush's State of the Union Address will also draw intense international interest.

"And the world is going to be listening very carefully to exactly how he translates his visions of democracy into a concrete foreign policy," he said. "This is going to be one of the most important state of the union addresses in recent history."

Although the president will deal with both foreign and domestic policy in his speech, it is expected he will spend a lot of time making his case for reforming the government pension system known as Social Security.

Mr. Bush and many of his Republican supporters contend that the financial viability of Social Security is fast approaching a crisis as millions of post-war baby boom workers retire over the next several years.

"So therefore, now is the time to act," the president said. "Social Security has been an issue that has made people nervous. I understand that. I mean, people felt that it was the 'third rail' of American politics. That means if you touch it, it will be political death. I have said to the American people that our job is to confront issues and not pass them on."

Many Democrats take issue with the notion that Social Security is approaching a crisis. They oppose the president's plan to revamp Social Security, especially his proposal to allow younger workers to set up private investment accounts to boost their earnings.

Public opinion polls show Social Security remains among the most popular government programs and that a majority of the public is skeptical about the president's reform plan.

University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato says the president will need help from a number of Democrats to pass his reform plan in the Congress.

"I would say that at best, being generous, the Social Security plan of President Bush has perhaps a 50-50 chance of passage," he says. "And believe me, I am being generous. Unless there is serious movement, not just in the Congress but among the American public, this is likely to be a major setback for President Bush."

But other analysts point out that the president was able to win passage of tax cuts in his first term despite Democratic opposition and they expect him to make a vigorous public effort on Social Security reform as well.

Henry Nau is a political science professor at George Washington University in Washington. He was a recent guest on VOA's Encounter program.

"And this idea is to give people a small share in the management of their own resources for their retirement in the future," he said. "Social Security is still going to be there to take care of people who either make mistakes or cannot earn enough to provide for their retirement. But this part of developing a society of self-governing people, this is part of the Jeffersonian vision, which I think animates President Bush."

Democrats will give an official response to the president's State of the Union immediately following his speech. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada says his party has different priorities as Mr. Bush's second term gets under way.

"We have 45 million Americans with no health care," he said. "We have millions of others who are under-insured. This is the America that we live in today, a country whose founding promise is slipping further and further away from reality for too many American families."

Many experts agree the president should use his political leverage to push his proposals through Congress as quickly as possible.

Patrick Basham monitors the U.S. political scene for the Cato Institute in Washington. He recently spoke with VOA TV.

"Traditionally, historically, a president re-elected has, maybe at the outside, two years of a second term to really be seen as still the undisputed leader of the country politically," he said. "After two years, his power begins to fade away quite quickly and quite considerably and I think this president recognizes that."

Following the State of the Union Address, President Bush is scheduled to visit several cities around the country to push his Social Security plan in an effort to build public support.

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