Previewing the State of the Union

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, January 16, 2004; 10:22 AM

What will the president say, and how will he say it? The days before the State of the Union message (9 p.m. EST Tuesday) are always full of leaks and speculation. Here's some:

Peter G. Gosselin of the Los Angeles Times writes that in a quiet White House struggle, the "conservative activists who want Bush to embrace sweeping new tax breaks" appear to be losing ground to the "moderates who advocate a more cautious approach of seeking to consolidate his tax cut victories of the last three years. . . .

"For months, activists and some Republican Party officials have pushed for Bush to embrace the notion of an 'ownership society' -- a set of tax reduction and related policies aimed at helping Americans build assets, from homes to tax-advantaged savings and brokerage accounts. . . .

"The president will not use the phrase or mention the tax breaks the conservatives have touted, a senior White House official said Thursday. 'I'd steer you . . . away from "ownership society,"' said the official. 'I don't want you to believe it's not important, but I wouldn't describe the speech that way.'"

By contrast, Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes that "President Bush will use next week's State of the Union address to try to revive a proposal that would allow younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, aides say."

Caren Bohan of Reuters writes that Bush will stress that the "U.S. economy is solidly on the rebound" and "will call for Congress to make his tax cuts permanent and propose a number of initiatives to help Americans pay for their health care and increase their retirement savings."

Over on the Wall Street Journal opinion pages, "Our good friend, Mr. Rumor, has it that on Tuesday night President Bush will revive the proposal for two new tax-exempt savings accounts in his State of the Union address." The "lifetime savings account" and the "retirement savings account" both "make a lot of sense" the Journal writes. Another prediction: "Mr. Bush's opponents will resort to their usual rhetoric of class warfare, calling the new savings accounts a giveaway to the rich. And, as usual, this critique is bogus."

Even more common than prognostication is advice, much of it barbed and from the opposition.

Congressional Democratic leaders sent Bush a letter yesterday, calling on him to "adjust his budget priorities and reverse the dangerous fiscal path of his Administration." Today, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will speak about the State of the Union at the National Press Club.

"The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is calling on President Bush to provide a public accounting next week of why prewar American intelligence assessments that Iraq possessed illicit weapons now appear to have been mistaken," writes Douglas Jehl in the New York Times

There are alternate States of the Union.

Robert L. Borosage of The Nation recently offered up his "Kitchen-Table State of the Union," as in "as it looks not from the White House or Wall Street but from America's kitchen tables."

And there are listening aids.

The liberal has put out its own printable State of the Union Scorecard which lets folks literally keep tabs on whether the president has "Acknowledged," "Ignored" or "Spun" key issues such as health care and the environment.

Some of us, meanwhile, are eagerly awaiting the rules for the 2004 version of the State of the Union Drinking Game.

One thing is for sure. The address will, as usual, cover a lot of ground. Here are the handily indexed versions of Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address; his 2002 State of the Union Address; and his 2001 Address to Congress. Also available: The Bill Clinton archives. And here's a nifty historical photo gallery.

Send your State of the Union links to

Bremer to the White House

Is the president actually meeting face to face with L. Paul Bremer, Iraq's civilian administrator who is flying to Washington for some White House time? An administration official I spoke with this morning said he didn't know. Bremer will have "a series of consultations here" with "the persons with whom he needs to consult." So I was told. In the past, that has sometimes included the president. Here's some of this morning's coverage:

-- U.S. Scrambles to Salvage Transition, Robin Wright and Daniel Williams in The Washington Post.

-- U.S. Joins Iraqis to Seek U.N. Role in Interim Rule, Steven R. Weisman and John H. Cushman in the New York Times.

-- . U.S. May Rethink Election in Iraq, Alissa J. Rubin and Sonni Efron in the Los Angeles Times.

-- U.S. Seeks Compromise With Cleric, Jim Michaels and Barbara Slavin, USA Today.

Courting Black Voters

Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post reports that on his trip to New Orleans and Atlanta yesterday, "Bush portrayed himself as an heir to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., saying that he shared with the slain civil rights leader a belief in the transforming power of faith in American life. That self-depiction, however, was denounced by antiwar protesters in both cities."

In the New York Times, Richard W. Stevenson writes that "Mr. Bush's effort to reach out to black voters reflected a belief among his political advisers that his electoral standing in the South was so strong among his conservative base that he had an opportunity to broaden his support."

Bill Plante led his report on CBS News with images of the protesters in Atlanta.

Bush headlined two fundraisers on the trip, generating $1 million at a luncheon in New Orleans and $1.3 million at reception in Atlanta.

There was at least one confessional moment in the New Orleans church, where he was promoting his plan to allow religious groups to receive federal funding. "Many of the problems that are facing our society are problems of the heart," Bush said. "Addiction is the problem of a heart -- of the heart. I know -- I told this story before. I was a drinker. I quit drinking because I changed my heart. I guess I was a one-man faith-based program."

There was a humble moment. "I'm really not worthy to stand here, when I think about the fact that not only does -- Reverend Brown preaches here on a regular basis, but this is the very place where Martin Luther King stood, as well, some 42 years ago," Bush said from the pulpit.

And there was at least one unscripted moment, resulting in one of the odder Bush quotes in a while. The president was referring to an executive order he issued to make faith-based groups eligible for federal subsidies (see text). "It's not a dictatorship in Washington," Bush said, using a term he has of late reserved for Saddam Hussein's Iraq, "but I tried to make it one in that instance. We are beginning to see some success in opening up federal coffers for faith-based programs."

Here's the text of his speech at Union Bethel AME Church in New Orleans and of his remarks at the fundraising luncheon in New Orleans.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Web site features a photo gallery as part of its extensive coverage.

Piling On

A day after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called the Bush administration "arrogant" and "mean-spirited," former vice president Al Gore "called President Bush 'a moral coward' yesterday for allegedly tailoring his policies on global warming and other environmental and energy matters to benefit his allies in the coal, oil and mining industries," reports Eric Pianin of The Washington Post. (See the Webcast and transcript at

In the New York Times, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie, tells Michael Slackman Gore's remarks were "political hate speech."

Matt Drudge, by the way, had a great deal of fun pointing out that Gore gave his talk on global warming on one of the coldest days ever in New York.

The Saga of Balloonfoot

Al Kamen unravels the mystery of why (or whether) President Bush picked "Balloonfoot" as a nickname for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. (Hint: it has something to do with this piece by Bruce McCall in the New York Times's Week in Review section three years ago.)

Space, the Financial Frontier, Part II

Mike Allen and Greg Schneider of The Washington Post point out that Bush's call for a "renewed spirit of discovery" in space would also be a dream come true for the U.S. aerospace and energy industries, which have labored for years "to persuade NASA to pursue interplanetary voyages more aggressively, with companies standing to reap billions of dollars from the contracts and spinoff technologies that would result. . . .

"Among the companies that could profit from the plan are Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Halliburton Co., which Vice President Cheney headed before he joined Bush's ticket."

A New White House Group

Martin Crutsinger of the Associated Press reports that "the Bush administration, hoping to fend off Democratic attacks that it has failed to come to the aid of the country's ailing manufacturing sector, is calling for the creation of a new presidential council to give U.S. companies a greater voice in government decisions." It will be called the "President's Manufacturing Council." Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans makes the announcement at 11 a.m.

Bye Bye Blacklist?

Mike Allen of The Washington Post reports that Bush administration officials may back off their controversial, six-week-old policy of only allowing nations that had joined the U.S.-led coalition in the Iraq war to get prime reconstruction contracts. Bush let Canada off the blacklist this week after a face-to-face with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Now French, German and Russian companies may have a shot too.

Straight From the Transcript

This from yesterday's press gaggle with Scott McClellan:

Q Scott, has the political season started yet for the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President remains focused on our nation's highest priorities. As you have seen, he has continued to work to move forward on a number of important priorities recently, including his temporary worker program, including the bold new course he laid out for NASA yesterday and our space program.

Q Does speaking at several fundraisers a week constitute the nation's highest priorities?

MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, there is -- the President recognizes that there is an election. But his focus is on the people's business. I mean, I think I just dismiss that whole characterization outright. Obviously --

Q You mean it's inaccurate that he's speaking at several fundraisers a week?

MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously he has to -- well, the way you characterized it previously. That's not the way you characterized it. I think you characterized it in different terms prior to that. Obviously, the President has to -- is going to reach out and build support for his campaign. But his focus remains on our nation's highest priorities and doing the people's business.

© 2004