Bush set to outline final year in office

Washington, Jan 25 (DPA) President George W. Bush will give his annual State of the Union address Monday, a day earlier than tradition calls for, in a move designed to show that his agenda is still important even as Americans look beyond his remaining time in office.

The White House and Congress decided to hold the address on Monday, instead of following the last-Tuesday-of-January protocol, so the presidential nomination contests in Florida don’t bump Bush off front pages and television screens.

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While America debates whether Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain or Mitt Romney should be the next president, a weakened Bush, trying to rescue his legacy, has shown no sign of letting up during his last year at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bush’s constitutionally required speech is expected to focus on emerging economic woes, the war on terrorism, Iraq, Middle East peace and Iran’s nuclear activities.

Last year’s US troop buildup in Iraq has coincided with a sharp decline in violence, but the security gains must be cemented for long-term stability. And there has been little progress by the Iraqi government at overcoming deep ethnic and religious divisions to address the country’s problems.

Bush has also tied his legacy to brokering a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians before he leaves office, an achievement that would be as historic as it is unlikely.

US presidents entering their last year in office typically focus on foreign policy, an area where they wield greater leverage and need less political capital than to tackle domestic issues with a Congress wrapped up in an election season.

But just as Bush has begun carving out that path, he faces the tricky task of preventing the economy from sliding toward recession after a seven-year White House tenure characterised by a long stretch of economic growth.

The crisis in the housing market, high energy prices and a spike in the unemployment rate have slowed the economy and undermined confidence among consumers and on Wall Street.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Bush’s State of the Union speech would address his effort to bolster the economy and reassure Americans in the economy’s long-term future.

The Bush administration and congressional lawmakers Thursday agreed to a temporary stimulus package that includes a $150 billion tax cut to encourage consumer spending, investment and job creation.

Bush, speaking after the deal was announced, expressed confidence that the economy will stay strong over the long haul, but said that short-term measures were needed to address the turmoil caused by the housing market and oil prices.

“These challenges are slowing growth,” Bush said. “Yet Americans can also be confident about our long-term outlook. Our economy is strong, it is dynamic, and it is resilient.”

Congressional leaders have pledged to bring the legislation to a vote as soon as possible, in an unusual showing of bipartisanship ahead of the Nov 7 presidential and congressional elections.

Under the plan, about 117 million American households will receive tax rebate checks ranging from $600 for individuals to $1,200 for families, with an additional $300 for each child.

The Federal Reserve has also acted, dropping its benchmark interest rate Tuesday by three quarters of a percentage point during an emergency meeting. It is expected to introduce a further cut later this month.