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Bush Prepares for State of the Union Speech


U.S. President George Bush stands before the American people next Tuesday for the annual State of the Union address. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, administration officials say this year's address will be different from those he has given in the past.

White House Spokesman Tony Snow says this year's State of the Union address will not be the traditional laundry list of administration proposals describing what each government department will do in the coming year.

"It's not going to be a typical State of the Union address in the sense of going in great length through all the budget items, and it's not going to take a comprehensive look at all portions of the budget," he said. "It will address major issues including the war on terror, energy, health care, immigration, and education."

By focusing more clearly on a smaller number of issues, Snow says President Bush hopes to connect more directly with the American people on the challenges ahead.

"Part of the calculation here is that a lot of time these speeches they just go on and on and you lose people. It is better to spend some time focusing on big issues so that people do get a sense of your engagement with them. And there will be opportunities to pick up other topics in much greater detail later on," said Snow.

One of the reasons for that change is that the president's political party no longer controls both houses of Congress. Democrats took charge of the Senate and House of Representatives in legislative elections last November that were dominated by the war in Iraq.

The president last week announced what he says will be a new way forward in that conflict, including more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops. While Mr. Bush will certainly address the challenges in Iraq, White House officials say he will not use the State of the Union to go through those details again or respond directly to criticism from Democrats and some Republicans.

Instead, Snow says Mr. Bush will focus on issues where he believes Republicans and Democrats can make progress.

He said, "It's important to emphasize the areas where you can work together, and so in that sense maybe it does reflect a little bit of the political reality. But also, just as a presentational point of view, you want people to watch."

Democrats have chosen newly elected Virginia Senator Jim Webb to deliver their response to the State of the Union. Webb has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, where he son is serving in combat.

The Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, says his party, while making clear its opposition to the president's plan for Iraq, will also seek to restore the sense of cross-party cooperation that followed the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

He said, "This year we must reclaim that bipartisan spirit felt after 9/11. It shouldn't take a national tragedy to get us to work together."

"We should be equally inspired by the responsibility to keep America safe. From Afghanistan to energy, our challenges are great but we know America can meet them. And we know and must begin by changing course in Iraq," he added.

Reid says voters clearly demonstrated their opposition to the president's leadership on Iraq in last year's legislative elections.

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq.

Snow says that is because most people do not understand the entirety of the president's plan.