WASHINGTON – President Bush previewed three domestic themes of his upcoming State of the Union address -- tax cuts, energy prices and the rising cost of health care -- in his weekly radio broadcast Saturday.
Bush took partial credit for recent gains in the U.S. economy and urged Congress to make tax cuts permanent, a move that he said would specifically help small businesses because most small businesses pay taxes at individual income tax rates.
"Unfortunately, just as we are seeing how our tax cuts have created jobs and opportunity, some in Washington want to repeal the tax relief," he said. "Others want to just let it expire in a few years."
The tax cuts have strengthened the economy, the president said. "To keep our economy growing and our small-business sector strong, we need to ensure that you keep more of what you earn -- so Congress needs to make the tax cuts permanent," he said.
Democrats contend the tax cuts benefited the wealthy, not the middle class.
"Doesn't the president know that real wages are actually falling?" Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said after Bush spoke on the economy earlier this week. "That minimum wage workers are sinking deeper and deeper into poverty? That saving for college or a home has become an impossible dream for many Americans? That with the cost of energy so high, millions of families can't afford to heat their homes this winter?"
About four in 10 Americans -- 39 percent -- approve of Bush's handling of the economy while 59 percent disapprove, according to a recent AP-Ipsos poll. That is close to the lowest approval he has had on the economy during his presidency.,
Bush also addressed medical and energy costs in his radio address, highlighting two topics expected to be included in his State of the Union address on Jan. 31.
The president wants to raise the dollar amount that can be allowed to accumulate in existing health savings accounts. In these accounts, people shoulder more of the responsibility for the costs of medical care. They deposit money tax-free into an account while buying a high-deductible policy to cover catastrophic expenses.
Health savings accounts helps control costs by letting businesses or workers buy low-cost insurance policies for catastrophic events and then save, tax-free, for routine medical expenses.
"This year, I will ask Congress to take steps to make these accounts more available, more affordable, and more portable," Bush said. "Congress also needs to pass Association Health Plans, which allow small businesses across the country to join together and pool risk so they can buy insurance at the same discounts big companies get."
Democrats say that giving tax breaks to individuals on health care costs draws the healthiest and wealthiest out of traditional employer-based insurance plans, leaving behind the less well-off in a system that is increasingly expensive.
To help address rising energy costs, Bush said the administration will push development of new technologies and alternative and renewable fuels to make the nation less dependent on foreign sources of energy.