WASHINGTON -- President Bush has been promoting the same core agenda since he began campaigning in earnest for the presidency in 1999, including a centerpiece tax cut and education overhaul. Now he gets his chance to formally do something about it.
''Let's let the sausage be made,'' joked his chief economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, as Bush readied his first federal budget for submission to Congress.
Bush addresses a joint House-Senate session on Tuesday evening, then sends his budget for the 2002 fiscal year to Capitol Hill the next morning.
His prime-time speech is widely viewed as equivalent to a State of the Union address, even though it is not billed as such.
Comparisons between Bush's spare speaking style and that of former President Clinton, who turned such addresses into major productions, are inevitable.
But with Clinton's legacy becoming more and more tarnished by widening pardon inquiries and other last-minute acts in office, Bush may find himself with an extended honeymoon period from Congress. Even Democrats are finding it hard to explain away Clinton's messy departure.
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, says Clinton's inability to escape the headlines interferes with Bush's message. ''But Bush looks golden just being there and not getting into trouble,'' he said.
Bush recognizes his relative inarticulate speechmaking. Taking it into account, aides suggest that his address will be relatively brief, to the point and on-message, just as his campaign appearances were. Few flourishes, few surprises.
After a full month in office, Bush is finding that winning support for some of his priorities will be excruciatingly difficult in a Congress so closely divided. Bush has won abundant congressional goodwill with his congenial, outgoing nature. But his proposals are not faring so well.
His signature proposal for a $1.6 trillion tax cut has been hammered by Democrats as too big, too favorable to the wealthy. Even some congressional Republicans have voiced reservations.
And while there is support for some type of tax cut to stimulate the lagging economy, few involved in the process expect the final tax-cut bill to much resemble Bush's package.
His pledge to deliver on a campaign promise for a military pay raise has wide support. But some conservatives are rankled that he is not also asking for an increase in defense spending in other areas -- after campaigning on a theme of declining military readiness.
Bush said he wants to wait until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld completes a top-to-bottom review of Pentagon programs.
While seeking an 11.5 percent increase for the Education Department and an increase in the Medicare budget, Bush intends to ask Congress to hold the line on the other departments, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Higher education spending has clear bipartisan appeal, but Bush's plans for annual testing and vouchers to allow children to attend private schools in certain circumstances have generated intense controversy.
Likewise, his proposals to allow workers to divert some Social Security taxes into the stock market, and to let private health care companies compete to provide Medicare services, also have generated intense debate.
In acknowledging that some proposals do risk being turned into sausage, Bush has been going out of his way to involve key lawmakers in the early stages of his presidency.
He has taken pivotal lawmakers along for two days of trips to plug his domestic agenda and three earlier days of visits to military installations.
''One of the things chief executives in government know is we get to propose, we just don't get to write the law. We occasionally get to veto law, but we don't get to write it,'' Bush told an Ohio audience last week.
Even though Bush has only been in office a month, a lot has taken place.
The stock market has tumbled, the Fed has cut interest rates twice, U.S. and British warplanes have bombed targets in Iraq, a major spy scandal has erupted, an American submarine had a fatal collision with a Japanese fishing boat off Hawaii and Bush has spent seven days on the road, visiting seven states and Mexico.
And he still has over two months to go to complete his first 100 days.
''I think I've got the Congress' attention; I certainly hope so,'' Bush said in advance of his speech.
Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.
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