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Economy, Iraq on State of the Union agenda

Aide says Bush to cite 'great challenges' facing U.S.

President Bush rehearses his State of the Union address.
President Bush rehearses his State of the Union address.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Facing what polls suggest is a skittish and worried public, President Bush will use his State of the Union address Tuesday night to make the case for a possible war against Iraq and assure the American people that his administration can revitalize the U.S. economy.

The president, aides said, will demonstrate that he is attuned to the concerns of ordinary Americans, devoting much of it to domestic matters, even as he outlines what the administration sees as the threat posed by Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

"Most of the State of the Union will not be about Iraq. 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," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.

Bush has been rehearsing the speech since Friday. Its delivery at 9 p.m. Tuesday to a joint session of Congress comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say Bush must do more to convince the American public that a military strike against Iraq is justified and necessary. And the president once again will pitch his 10-year, roughly $674 billion economic plan, which has played to mixed reviews on Capitol Hill.

While some Republicans have praised the president's plan -- which includes a call to eliminate the tax on stock dividends -- as just the right tonic for a lackluster economy, others have been less than enthusiastic about the package, and Democrats have derided it as a giveaway to the wealthy.

In the days leading up to the speech, administration aides and congressional allies have fanned out, offering broad outlines of what Bush is expected to say and attempting to drum up support for the president's message.

"We have great challenges," White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer. "And [the president] knows, and he's going to talk about how the American people are equal to the task. "

On challenges abroad, the focus is expected to be Iraq.

The address comes one day after chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the U.N. Security Council that Iraq has yet to reach a "genuine acceptance" of its obligation to disarm.

Bush's speech, Bartlett said Friday, will stop short of a declaration of war against Iraq, but it will "educate the public about the nature of the threat."

Bush also will give an update on the war on terrorism, Bartlett said.

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