WASHINGTON – The annual State of the Union address usually gives the president an opportunity to reel off a laundry list of policies that he wants Congress to work on in the coming year. Tuesday night's address by President Bush, however, is expected to depart from all that.
With his attention devoted to the war on terror and an anemic economy, Bush is expected to offer fewer priorities but illustrate a big picture of America's future.
Tune in to Fox News Channel for full coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address beginning at 9pm EST.
In his weekend radio address, the president said he would boil down his first State of the Union speech to three themes — the war abroad, homeland defense and domestic spending priorities, including how he plans to re-invigorate the economy.
The change is welcome to some Washington insiders, worrisome to others.
"I'm really delighted, if it's true, that he's going to be developing major themes rather than micromanaging, piling program upon program," said Stephen Hess, a government studies expert at the Brookings Institution and a former speechwriter for the late President Eisenhower. "To me, that would make a far more interesting speech."
"How do you properly define the scope [of the war] so that it does not become all things to all spenders?" asked Mike Franc, vice president for government affairs at the Heritage Foundation. "[Bush] has got to get a lot of support on Capitol Hill for whatever he asks for on spending, then his role will be to determine what is and what is not proper for spending."
In his speech Tuesday, the president is expected to remind people that the war on terror is not over yet, a reminder Hess said is very important as the events of Sept. 11 fade in the minds of many Americans.
"We have had some remarkable victories in Afghanistan, but Americans can tend to forget that this is expected to be a long and protracted engagement," Hess said. "It would be very useful to remind us. This is the one time that Americans tend to tune in on what the president is doing and the president should take advantage of that."
He must, however, prevent the "lethargy of expectations" that comes from a protracted campaign, Franc warned.
"He's got to guard against that now that several months into this, we're entering a more quiet phase in the war on terrorism," he said.
The president is expected to outline his $2.1 trillion budget for 2003, a $200 billion increase over the $1.9 trillion proposal he sent to Congress last year. This spending plan will include a $48 billion increase for defense — the largest increase in 20 years — but hold overall growth to 2 percent.
Included in the $379 billion defense spending bill, the president will propose $38 billion for homeland security, virtually doubling it from last year's spending in order to cover the cost of new airport security workers, extra FBI agents, more border patrol agents, and increased funding for postal service security.
On economic issues, Bush is also expected to reiterate his call to continue with the scheduled 10-year $1.35 trillion tax cut passed by Congress last year as a key measure towards stimulating the economy. Some Democrats have suggested repealing the tax cut in order to speed up economic recovery, an idea the president said Monday reeked of fuzzy math.
"Now there are some who believe if you raise taxes, it makes the economy stronger. As I've told the American people several times, I don't understand what textbook they're reading. I believe by reducing taxes, it makes the economy stronger," he said during a Rose Garden event with Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
Added to the president's economic stimulus initiative will be a call to issue health and tax credits for unemployed workers rather than to extend benefits like Democrats have proposed.
In the face of a looming federal deficit, the first in four years, the president is also expected to announce a $190 million plan to revamp Medicare and to develop a prescription drug program. He will also seek a new round of education reforms.
Those priorities will be most important to some Americans.
"That he's increasing defense, that was expected and it is the right time to do it," said Jessica Dumont, a mother of two and employee at a Hartford, Conn., insurance company.
"But I fear they will cut back on things they have already cut back on. Will education be addressed like we hoped? And I'd like to hear practical details about healthcare, especially about how we are going to address seniors. I just feel like all of this talk has been in general terms. People are fearing for their jobs and they want answers," she said.
The president is also expected to talk about expanding the AmeriCorps program in the spirit of community and national volunteerism and will ask for an increase of $14 million for a U.S. Department of Agriculture quarantine inspection program, for a total of $61 million for 2003.