WASHINGTON – President Bush will call for a slash in U.S. gasoline consumption by up to 20 percent in the next 10 years as part of new energy proposals in his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night.
It will be part of a domestically focused speech that comes nearly two weeks after the president declared his new strategy for Iraq. Bush also is planning to focus on health care, the budget, education and immigration reform.
Tuesday's speech is designed to hit on relatively few themes rather than a checklist of items.
"When you have a Democratic Congress that came in two weeks ago saying, 'We want to get things done,' we've got some offers that they're going to be pretty good for them," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
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Although Democrats already were beginning to offer criticism, one high-placed Democrat said he'll give the ideas a fair shake.
"I want to look at these. We owe him that," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., Tuesday. "There's a lot of areas. None of them are dead on arrival."
More details began filtering out in the hours before the president was to give his speech.
Click here to read Bush's 2007 State of the Union initiatives.
Bush envisions making the 20 percent gasoline reduction goal happen by instituting heavy increases in ethanol production along with other alternative fuels. Bush also seeks to raise fuel economy standards for passenger cars, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joel Kaplan told reporters Tuesday.
Ethanol, already in use in retail gasoline, is growing in acceptance as both a cleaner fuel because of its renewability — it can be made from corn and sugar cane, for instance — as well as the ability to decrease the United States' energy dependence on other nations.
The president is seeking to more than quadruple the amount of alternative fuels in the five years after 2012, from 7.5 billion gallons in to 35 billion gallons in 2017, and he wants the fuel standards to include other fuels other than ethanol.
Snow said on Monday "that the president has always believed when it comes to climate change that the best way to achieve reductions is through innovation and to figure out ways to come up with energy sources that are going to meet our economy's constant demand for energy and at the same time go to a way that's friendly for the environment."
Officials are promising an alternative fuels plan, but it won't include the greenhouse gas limits the heads of 10 major corporations and four environmental organizations called for on Monday. The president feels that would slow down the economy, officials said.
Snow said the president's health care proposal will cut costs for 100 million Americans, although he said costs could go up for 20 million to 30 million people. Snow said that if market forces adjust, Americans should not feel a pinch.
The president will offer a $7,500 tax deduction for individuals and $15,000 for families, including those who are covered by employer health plans. Those who have employer-sponsored health plans, however, could be subject to a new tax, depending on whether their policies are more or less than the tax deduction.
The plan to pay for health insurance for 80 percent of the public by taxing the benefits of what the White House has labeled as a high income groups is not a recommendation of the American Council of Physicians, and Bush expects some grumbling, Snow said.
Snow, speaking with FOX News on Tuesday, said the president is pushing for market reforms for health care that ultimately will bring prices down.
"Isn't it time we had a consumer market that was as responsive to your particular needs as the cell phone market is? ... The fact is, this is a chance for the marketplace to get involved and, you know what, as soon as providers understand what the price points are, they are going to compete," Snow said.
The president also is expected to shift some money now going to hospitals and other facilities away from them and into state coffers as an attempt to reduce the number of uninsured.
Bush's signature education bill will at least need a vote from Congress this year to continue the program. He will call for that, and is expected to increase funding for the program, which has faced criticism for not providing enough federal dollars to help schools make the cuts under the higher standards written into the law.
Despite revealing his plan on Jan. 10 to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq to stabilize the country, Snow said Bush will spend a "significant amount of time" in the State of the Union discussing Iraq and the global War on Terror.
The troop proposal, which has already gone partly into effect, has drawn stark partisan division.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday are set to begin debating a nonbinding resolution that would say "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating U.S. troop presence in Iraq."
In a published interview Monday, Bush told USA Today he believes many Americans know it is important to win in Iraq, but also said he will try to show the global context and importance of the war there
"I will back up the speech I gave last week with some more talk about Iraq ... but I'm also going to talk about Iraq in the larger context of a global and ideological struggle. My point is going to be, 'what happens in Iraq matters to your security here at home,'" Bush told the newspaper.
In the interview, Bush also acknowledged that he faces skepticism among both Democrats and Republicans but said he believes he can win them over with the new revisions to his Iraq policy, detailed in the Jan. 10 speech. He called alternately for patience among the skeptics, and for a better plan if they have one.
The "best way to convince them that this makes sense is to implement it and show them that it works, show them that there is security in the capital. ... And what I would say to the members of Congress ... for those who have condemned the plan before it had a chance to work, that you have a special obligation to put forth a plan that you think will work," Bush said.
A new Associated Press-America Online poll suggests support for Bush's Iraq strategy has improved by about 5 percentage points to 31 percent of registered voters. The numbers come after one of the worst weekends for U.S. casualties in which 27 soldiers and Marines died in a series of attacks and incidents, including a downed helicopter and a separate attack by insurgents dressed in U.S. military uniforms.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., is one of the chief sponsors of one bipartisan resolution opposing Bush's plan. He said over the weekend he would push for a vote on the resolution because the only way to make Iraqis take more responsibility is to show them America's support will not last indefinitely.
"What we've got to do is keep the pressure on the Iraqis to reach a political settlement and not deepen our military involvement, which adds targets but doesn't add much in the way of pressure," Levin told "FOX News Sunday."
Bush, however, has said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki already is delivering on promises to provide more troops for Baghdad and to crack down on militias responsible for much of the sectarian violence, including the Mahdi army, which is loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
Set to deliver the Democrats' response to the president's address is the newly seated Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia.
In a telephone conference with reporters Monday, Webb said his address would discuss the ideas "that we need to get a re-orientation in our national security policy with Iraq, but not only with Iraq; we need to restore economic fairness to this country; and we need to have a government that's more accountable to the people."
He said he does "not intend to deliver a particularly partisan speech. That part of the campaign is over. ... My speech will highlight areas where Democrats in Congress have different priorities."
This is the second year in a row that a Virginia Democrat has delivered the party's official response to the president's annual address — last year Gov. Tim Kaine was tapped to deliver the response.
Webb said that as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, he's believes that hearings and oversight will provide accountability needed to check the Bush administration, which he said hasn't handled spending in Iraq well.
Webb said he has not come to a decision which, if any, of the Democrat resolutions on Iraq he would support, but called the one sponsored by Democrats Levin and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska "a good start" that will show the sense of the Senate over the issue.
Webb said a number of Democrats have given him recommendations and thoughts about what to include in the response, "but on this one, I pretty much decided to write it myself — but with the understanding that I am speaking for the Democratic Party."
In a move signaling how quickly the 2008 presidential race is defining itself, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack already assailed portions of the speech, including the president's expected comments about energy.
"Last year, the president suggested in a promise to us that he would make an aggressive effort to make renewable energy a centerpiece of a growing American economy. Unfortunately, his proposals were weak and failed to deliver," said Vilsack, also during a phone conference call.
Vilsack, a Democrat, accused the president of spending too much of his efforts on Iraq "instead of focusing on expanding the economy here in America so that the middle class can grow instead of shrink." He called for greater investment in renewable energy, a politically and economically important issue for Vilsack's home state, which is invested heavily in ethanol production.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Greg Simmons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.