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Searching for Answers

Unlike last year, when he used the occasion to kick off an ambitious and ultimately failed effort to overhaul Social Security, Mr. Bush seems unlikely to reshape the political landscape with his speech on Tuesday, members of both parties said.

Lawmakers said this election year would not be a good time to push difficult initiatives, and the White House has already shelved what it had initially planned as its big idea for 2006, a rewriting of the tax code.

Administration officials and other Republicans in Washington said Mr. Bush would focus on several topics, including health care, spending restraint, illegal immigration and the nation's international economic competitiveness, as well as an unapologetic restatement of his national security policy."

Washington Post: "President Bush will propose that Americans be allowed to take tax deductions on more of their out-of pocket medical expenses, as part of an initiative the White House believes will rein in soaring health costs by shifting responsibility toward individuals, according to congressional and other sources familiar with the administration's thinking."

Wall Street Journal, which gets an Oval interview: "Speaking less than a week before his annual State of the Union address, Mr. Bush previewed his push to harness market forces to make health care more affordable by giving consumers more direct control of their care. Among other things, Mr. Bush signaled he wants to significantly expand the Health Savings Account program, under which workers who sign up for special high-deductible insurance are allowed to put away money tax-free to bankroll basic expenditures."

Is Rove outfoxing the Dems again? Ron Brownstein says it's a possibility:

"Leading Democrats are challenging President Bush's record on civil liberties across a wide front, inspiring a Republican counterattack that even some Democratic strategists worry could threaten the party in this year's elections.

"From Bush's authorization of warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency to renewal of the Patriot Act, the president and his critics are battling more intently than at any time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks over the proper balance between national security and personal liberty.

"In each of these disputes, prominent Democrats -- joined by a few Republicans -- accuse Bush of improperly expanding presidential power and dangerously constricting the rights of Americans. Bush and his allies have fired back by escalating charges that Democrats would weaken America's security by imposing unreasonable restraints on the president. . . .

"That emerging alignment worries some Democratic strategists, who believe it may allow Bush to portray Republicans as stronger than Democrats in fighting terrorism, as he did in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns."

Is there at least one exit strategy in Iraq? Columbia Journalism Review's Paul McLeary seems to find one for the press when he gets to Baghdad:

"Getting a room wasn't a problem; while the hotel used to be full of journalists, many either left the country after the December elections or were pulled out by their publications, which have been cutting back on Baghdad staff as things have gotten progressively more dangerous. The day I checked in, the only people I saw were a few middle-aged Iraqi men in leather jackets forlornly smoking by the front desk, and a lonely cafeteria attendant, sitting at his cash register watching a soap opera.

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