WASHINGTON – President Bush will outline his case against Saddam Hussein in Tuesday night's State of the Union address, balancing tough talk on Iraq with a domestic policy agenda that includes a new plan to direct drug treatment money to religious groups.
Pushing a new plank in his "faith-based initiative," Bush planned to ask Congress for $200 million next fiscal year for vouchers to people seeking drug treatment. The vouchers would allow them to seek help at any treatment center, including those with religious approaches, two senior White House officials said.
The plan is sure to be controversial because many religious drug treatment programs do not employ medical approaches and do not use staff that have been licensed for this work.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bush also planned to propose a significant increase in spending on research into development of hydrogen fuel-cell cars.
Both initiatives were previewed by advisers as they sought to highlight aspects of his budget blueprint that might prove attractive to moderate voters.
Bush wants to show Americans that his White House can focus on problems at home while fighting war abroad. His agenda also includes massive tax cuts, Medicare reform, prescription drugs for the elderly, health insurance for small businesses and other new initiatives that help religious groups provide federally funded community services.
Bush will address the nation at 9 p.m. EST as polls show that Americans are increasingly reluctant to back war with Iraq and have growing doubts about Bush's ability to handle the ailing economy.
To counter concerns about Iraq, Bush intends to reiterate his assertion that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and is linked to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, officials said. But new evidence of those charges will not be revealed until next week by Secretary of State Colin Powell, perhaps at the United Nations, officials said.
Bush will not repeat the "axis of evil" phrase he applied in last year's address to Iraq, Iran and North Korea, officials said, although he intends to cite all three nations by name and describe the complications they are causing the anti-terror coalition.
They said Bush opted for a broad argument against Saddam in part to avoid having the State of the Union dominated by Iraq.
Preparing for the address, Bush met conservative newspaper columnists Monday and rehearsed the speech, timed at about 45 minutes, in front of a TelePrompTer.
Leading Republicans across the country received White House memos designed to guide their interviews with reporters. The GOP officials were told to promote Bush's plans for the economy, jobs, health care, "compassionate" faith-based community services and, lastly, Iraq.
"Most of the State of the Union will not be about Iraq," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Most of the State of the Union will be about improving America's economy and providing greater access to health care for millions of American people, including senior citizens."
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle challenged the White House to show "proof to the world" that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
As the party's top leaders joined for a pre-emptive assault on Bush's address, Daschle and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Bush of creating a "credibility gap" on a raft of issues.
Bush is working on details of a plan that would encourage Medicare beneficiaries to choose alternatives, such as managed care and preferred provider organizations, to get prescription drug coverage under the federal plan.
Bush also wants Congress to help small businesses band together to buy health insurance for their employees. But the initiative faces opposition from consumer groups and governors because it would be largely exempt from state regulation.