WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) will address the public in prime time Thursday to push his Social Security and energy proposals, two high-profile issues that Bush has made centerpieces of his second term.
The news conference was pushed up a half hour to 8:00 p.m. EDT; the White House had originally told TV networks Bush would start speaking at 8:30. The president will speak for 10 to 12 minutes before taking questions from reporters.
Watch FOX News Channel and stay with FOXNews.com for full coverage and analysis of the news conference.
The news conference — Bush's fourth in prime time since taking office in 2001 — comes as the president's 60-day nationwide tour to boost his Social Security plan winds down. A FOX News poll released Wednesday shows Americans remain confused on whether the personal investment accounts touted by the president would be optional or mandatory.
Many Democrats and groups including the AARP believe relying on personal investment accounts that are tied to the whims of Wall Street could leave many older Americans vulnerable. Some prominent Republicans have backed away from the plan, most recently Sen. Olympia Snowe (search) of Maine, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee.
Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday he may encourage the panel to approve a bill that doesn't include the accounts in order to get it on the Senate floor. The White House and Bush's Republican allies in Congress have been struggling for weeks to create legislation that meets the two goals Bush has set — placing the program on a stable financial footing while creating the voluntary personal accounts for younger workers.
The majority of Americans favor having a choice in the matter: 79 percent of the public thinks people under age 55 should be able to decide whether the portion of their salary that currently pays into Social Security should stay there or be invested in a private account. The support goes up 10 points among respondents under age 55, the FOX News poll found.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said Bush would "talk in more specific ways" about his ideas for achieving a bipartisan solution to Social Security's future solvency problems.
"This is an important period in the national debate over strengthening Social Security," McClellan said. "We're in a new phase of stepped-up legislative activity. The 60 cities in 60 days tour ends this Sunday. We've been out across the country educating the American people about the problems facing Social Security."
But some analysts speculated Bush would effectively concede defeat on portions of his plan Thursday night.
"I don't think he moved the needle at all with the American public on private accounts," said Jeff Connaughton, former special assistant to the counsel to President Clinton.
Connaughton said Bush may announce he would stop pursuing private investment accounts in order to "reflect the political reality."
"He needs to change the subject because things have not been going well for him," Connaughton told FOX News.
On energy, McClellan said Bush would push Congress to pass his long-stalled energy plan. Soaring oil and gasoline prices are beginning to take a toll on U.S. economic growth and on Bush's approval ratings. The House voted 249-183 last week for White House-backed legislation that would give tax cuts and subsidies to energy companies and open a wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil exploration. The Senate has not yet acted.
"The American people are concerned about the price at the pump, and the president will talk about his comprehensive energy plan and the need to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy," he said.
Earlier this week, Bush said the United States would work with Saudi Arabia to find ways to increase oil production capacity and push prices back down. The president on Monday hosted Crown Prince Abdullah (search) at his Crawford ranch.
Sticker shock at the pump has hurt Bush's approval rating since he kicked off his second term in office. The administration has devoted more time to resolving energy issues as part of its domestic agenda following a first term in which terrorism and the Iraq war took precedence.
In his second energy speech of the week, Bush said America's dependence on oil should be shifted over to nuclear energy, and called for an increase in plant production. He also called for $2.5 billion in tax breaks over 10 years for people who buy gas-electric and clean-diesel automobiles.
Bush's assurances seemed to be calming the market: crude prices have retreated slightly over the past week, and on Thursday briefly dropped below $50 a barrel for the first time since Feb. 22.
Congress has been juggling the looming political crises of ethics charges against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and a fight over filibusters. While it is unlikely Bush will address either issue in his prepared remarks, he will undoubtedly be asked to do so during the follow-up Q&A.
Connaughton told FOX News it is unlikely the president will side with Republican lawmakers who want to ban the filibuster.
"The poll numbers reflect that while it might be popular with the president's base, it's not popular with the majority of the people to change the Senate's role as an institution," Connaughton said.
But Chris Henick, a former deputy assistant to the president, disagreed.
"I think he's going to reflect what the majority of Americans are beginning to realize this debate is not about the elimination of the legislative filibuster. It's about the restoration of advice and consent for the federal judiciary," Henick told FOX News. "Americans, even if they disagree with a judge, they believe Senate Democrats should at least give an up-and-down vote for the president's nominations."
Bush held his last solo news conference on March 16; his last prime-time news conference was more than a year ago. White House advisers are trying to have him hold the sessions on a monthly basis, far more frequently than in his first term.
FOX News' Jane Roh and The Associated Press contributed to this report.