Bush Previews State of the Union Themes in Radio Address

In a preview of next week's State of the Union address, President Bush on Saturday gave a glimpse of what will dominate his 2003 agenda: boosting the economy, making the country safer from attack, giving the elderly greater access to health care and preaching the gospel of compassion.

"Our nation faces many great challenges all at once," Bush said in his weekly radio address, summing up what aides have described as the overarching theme of the upcoming speech. "We will meet all of them with courage and steady purpose."

Just barely into his third year as president, Bush goes before Congress and a worldwide television audience Tuesday night.

In the speech, he also will brace the nation for the prospect of war, part of a major effort to ease the concerns of international allies and sway the majority of Americans who polls say do not believe he has made his case for military action in Iraq. The address comes one day after U.N. weapons inspectors present their findings to the Security Council.

The president touched only briefly -- and obliquely -- on that much-anticipated component of the State of the Union speech in his radio remarks.

"We will take every measure that is necessary to protect the American people from terrorist groups and outlaw regimes," he said. "The world depends on America's strength and purpose, and we will meet our responsibilities for peace."

Instead, Bush emphasized the domestic priorities he will outline for the nation in more detail in a few days at a pivotal time for his presidency.

Polls find many Americans don't agree with him on the economy and other domestic issues, saying for instance that they don't think his plan to cure the nation's economic ills is the right medicine. His job approval percentages are in the upper 50s, historically strong but down significantly from their high point just after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush said he would ask lawmakers to approve his $674 billion, 10-year tax-cut plan. He said its centerpiece, eliminating taxes on stock dividends, would "lay the foundation for future prosperity by encouraging investment and helping Americans to prepare for the new jobs a growing economy will bring."

The president also plans to announce next week the broad outlines of his proposed changes in the nation's health care system -- including the Medicare program.

"I will urge Congress to join me in keeping our commitment to America's seniors by working to modernize Medicare, and include a prescription drug benefit to help seniors who are squeezed by rising drug prices," Bush said.

The speech, and the 2004 budget request he sends to Capitol Hill in early February, also will include new initiatives to make more federal community services money available to religious groups, Bush said.

He also touted his plan to request an overall spending boost for federal agencies next year of just 4 percent -- less than half the growth expected this year -- saying the restraint was critical to economic growth at a time when war and recession are combining to push the federal deficit upward.

"Government should not grow faster than workers' paychecks," Bush said. "Government should follow the example of American families by setting priorities and staying with them."