State of the Union Preview

Tonight's State of the Union address will be a realistic, relatively low-key speech that recognizes the limits of President Bush's power in his final year in office, White House insiders tell U.S. News. To that end, the president will advocate transferring more power from Washington to the individual citizen but won't have big new initiatives to announce.

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Tonight's State of the Union address will be a realistic, relatively low-key speech that recognizes the limits of President Bush's power in his final year in office, White House insiders tell U.S. News. To that end, the president will advocate transferring more power from Washington to the individual citizen but won't have big new initiatives to announce.

This is an important change, since in the past Bush and his advisers have disdained what they called "small ball" in favor of pathbreaking proposals. But this time, the president will talk about completing "unfinished businesss" that the Democratic majority in Congress might be reasonably expected to approve, such as the $150 billion economic growth package announced last week by Bush and congressional leaders. Bush will also call on Congress to strengthen surveillance programs to fight terrorists, and he will urge Congress to make permanent the tax cuts enacted in 2003. In previewing the address for U.S. News and other media organizations, White House officials have come up with a public catchphrase to describe Bush's attitude: He wants to "sprint to the finish."

But senior advisers tell U.S. News that, privately, the real watchword is "realism." For example, while Bush still favors overhauling Social Security and the immigration laws, he realizes the limitations on Congress in a political year, so he won't make another big push.

"It is unrealistic to expect that this Congress is going to take on such big problems this year," says White House press secretary Dana Perino.

But Bush will serve notice that he will continue to implement changes through executive orders and other unilateral administrative actions without congressional approval if the House and Senate remain balky. He will also threaten to use his veto power, as he did throughout 2007. One late-breaking development is the announcement by White House officials this morning that Bush will pledge tonight to be more aggressive than ever in minimizing congressional earmarks—spending on pet projects. On foreign affairs, Bush will highlight recent successes in Iraq, which might allow him to bring some U.S. troops home this year. And he will talk about his efforts to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

—Kenneth T. Walsh