'Security' to be theme of Bush's State of Union speech

The theme of President Bush's State of the Union address Jan. 29 will be "security" for U.S. citizens, the White House said today. The term will apply not only to protecting citizens against terrorism, but to ensuring they are economically secure as well, according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

"The President defines security at home as the security of having a job, as the security of having a paycheck, as the security of having an economy that grows and is strong," Fleischer said.

He pointed to several of Bush's domestic priorities that fall under the "security" banner: reducing reliance on foreign sources of oil by enacting a new energy policy; promoting job security through trade by renewing presidential trade negotiating authority; increasing "health security" by expanding health insurance coverage and lowering the cost of prescription drugs for seniors; "reducing the income gap between haves and have- nots" through Bush's faith-based initiative; reauthorizing welfare reform; and passing a new farm bill.

Bush's address will be both preceded and followed by separate speeches outlining aspects of his agenda. Under questioning from reporters, Fleischer said other items, such as managed care reform, also will be priorities.

On other matters, Bush retains confidence in Treasury Secretary O'Neill, Fleischer said while responding to a question. "The President is nothing but satisfied with the job the Secretary is doing," Fleischer said.

Also, Fleischer declined to indicate whether Vice President Dick Cheney will respond to a new request from House Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., concerning Enron. But Fleischer said, to his knowledge, there have been no discussions between White House and Enron officials about Enron's financial situation.

Meanwhile, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, two budget experts bolstered Majority Leader Daschle's contention that last year's tax cut contributed to the current recession and to the short-term deficit situation.

Peter Orszag, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, referenced a Congressional Budget Office report released last week that evaluated various tax proposals in terms of stimulative "bang for the buck." Orszag noted that, according to CBO, accelerated income tax rate cuts and repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax--proposals championed by congressional Republicans--would have relatively small stimulative effects. Orszag also contended that the tax cut accounted for high long-term interest rates even as Federal Reserve cuts have dropped short-term rates.

Robert Greenstein, executive director for the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, dismissed administration claims that the war and the current recession are responsible for the new budget deficit situation. "Over time, the tax cut without question is the predominant factor in the disappearance of the surplus," he said.