Coming off the worst year of his presidency, President Bush hopes to use Tuesday's State of the Union address to kick-start his legislative agenda and shore up his party's grip on power.
With Democrats bemoaning Washington's "culture of corruption," Bush will remind public officials of their ethical obligations and of the nation's expectations of their conduct.
But he is not expected to endorse any specific lobbying reforms, according to Republican sources. Nor is he expected to discuss recent allegations involving David Safavian, the Bush administration's former procurement offical who was arrested in September as part of a corruption probe; Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff who was indicted in October for obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements in the CIA leak investigation; or Jack Abramoff, the former GOP lobbyist who pleaded guilty in early January to defrauding some of his former clients.
"Lobbying reform is not on the American people's tongues as far as what they want in action," National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds of New York said on Friday. "They're looking for the Congress to keep doing the kinds of things that matter to them."
Bush will spend most of his address offering a new theme for his economic policies while reiterating his commitment to fighting a global war on terrorism, of which he considers Iraq a central front.
The president is also expected to touch on Iran, Hurricane Katrina and the Supreme Court.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters this morning that the speech was in its 23rd draft and that the president was continuing to rehearse it in the White House theater.
Changes in Direction
Social Security reform, the centerpiece of last year's speech, and fundamental restructuring of the tax code, an issue that the Bush administration had originally planned to push in 2006, will get little attention.
Bush is expected to urge Congress to make his first-term tax cuts permanent. Yet an intractable federal deficit, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at $360 billion, will temper discussion of big, new government programs.
Instead the president will emphasize a mixture of smaller-scale initiatives, including investments in scientific research, energy independence, worker training, education reform, expanded trade, legal reform and new tax breaks for medical expenses.
Bush will frame this collection of economic policies as a plan for America's global competitiveness. Republican sources tell ABC News that the president believes in the thesis of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's book "The Earth Is Flat," which argues that American businesses and workers cannot escape competing in an increasingly global marketplace.
To make progress on his anti-terror and economic initiatives, the president will call for "changing the tone" in Washington, a reprise of one of his 2000 campaign themes. The president said in a recent interview that he planned to tell Congress he wants "discourse without anger."
The president's plea for greater civility on homeland security issues is unlikely to be successful, however, given that the Libby trial, debate over the extension of the Patriot Act, and hearings on the controversial domestic spying program are all scheduled to begin within a week of the State of the Union.
In a recent speech to the liberal Center for American Progress, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada charged that Bush "can continue to speak in platitudes, like we've seen in the last five State of the Unions, or he can choose to come clean on Iraq, on corruption and how the Republican party's wrong priorities are holding America back."
The president's speech comes at a time when some Republicans are nervous about losing their majorities in Congress. It remains unlikely, however, that Democrats will win control of either the House or Senate in 2006 unless more incumbent Republicans retire or there are significant developments on some of the ethics stories.
"I understand that there's wind to our face in the second term of a party in power," said Reynolds, the man charged with retaining a Republican House majority. "But I also feel very good about the prospects of getting the job done."
Karen Travers and Dan Nechita contributed to this report.