January 28, 2008 / 12:34 PM / in 11 years

UPDATE 4-Bush speech will seek to calm fears over economy

(Adds speech excerpts)

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush will try to reassure nervous Americans on Monday he is doing everything possible to keep the economy from sliding into recession, as he struggles to stay relevant in the twilight of his term.

With the stumbling U.S. economy supplanting the unpopular Iraq war as the public’s top concern, Bush, in his final State of the Union address, will acknowledge the United States is “undergoing a period of economic uncertainty” but will sound an optimistic note.

“In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth,” Bush will say, according to excerpts of his speech released by the White House.

Bush will tout security gains in Iraq he credits to a troop buildup he ordered last January and will renew his call for Iran to stop enriching uranium and to “come clean” about its nuclear intentions.

“Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin,” Bush will say.

Politically weakened by the war in Iraq and eclipsed by the race to choose his successor, Bush will be more intent on recycling some of his old ideas than offering any bold new proposals.

In his annual speech to the U.S. Congress, broadcast live at 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT) he has the chance to set the tone for his waning months in the White House and try to salvage his frayed legacy.

“This is a very forward-looking speech,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters. “The president thinks his legacy will shake itself out when people look at the record, and history will tell.”

But sandwiched between Saturday’s Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina and Tuesday’s Republican contest in Florida, Bush will face the challenge of making himself heard above the growing din of the 2008 election campaign.

At the top of Bush’s speech agenda will be a $150 billion stimulus package meant to avert recession in an economy suffering from high oil prices and a housing slump.

“At kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future,” Bush will say.

He is trying to head off attempts by some Senate Democrats to expand the plan beyond the tax rebates and business investment incentives agreed with House of Representatives leaders last week.

The impetus for compromise is that no one, least of all an unpopular president nearing the end of his watch, wants to be blamed for an economic meltdown before the Nov. 4 elections. (Editing by Chris Wilson)

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