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State of Union Speech to Stress Conservatism

January 24, 1988|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — After years of wrangling over the tone of his State of the Union messages, the President's top aides have decided to "let Reagan be Reagan" in this, his seventh and apparently final annual address, and emphasize the conservative themes that have been the hallmark of his political career.

Thus, in his State of the Union address Monday night, the President plans to press hard for support of his longstanding fiscal and social agenda at home while warning against the threat of communist tyrannies overseas.

An initial draft of the speech, which aides describe as "Reaganesque" and close to what the speech will be in its final form, shows the President appealing for bipartisan support from the Democratic-controlled Congress. But in the draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, he also strikes an unusually combative posture for a lame-duck President whose power has been further eroded by the Iran-Contra affair and other scandals.

In the draft, Reagan pledges "swift and certain use of the veto power" to counter any attempt to break the agreement he worked out with Congress last year to reduce the federal deficit by $76 billion over the next two years.

Exercise of Veto Power

That threat, if carried out, would mark a significant departure from his past practice because, to date, Reagan has exercised his veto power less frequently than most recent Republican presidents and appears to be in poor political shape to make his vetoes stand up in Congress. He vetoed only three bills last year--one of the lowest one-year figures in this century--and Congress overrode him twice.

The President, using the address to set the stage for his eighth and final year in office, once again will urge Congress to approve a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget and to give him authority to veto individual line items of spending bills.

Reagan devoted most of his weekly radio address Saturday to a generally unsurprising preview of his annual message, but garnished it with a suggestion that "I may have a surprise, too, a way right now for Congress to show it's serious about putting the government's house in order."

There was an apparent clue to the topic in a handwritten insert in the speech draft that reads: "Let's forge a domestic partnership on the budget. Instead of a presidential budget that gets discarded and a congressional budget that is not enforced, why not a joint agreement that sets out the spending priorities within available revenues."

The President also will urge support for his unfinished social agenda of welfare reform, a school prayer amendment and anti-abortion legislation.

On the foreign front, he plans to press his campaign for aid to Nicaragua's Contras. And, while he will renew his commitment to seek an agreement with the Soviets to reduce long-range nuclear arms, he also will pledge to emphasize human rights and regional issues at any Moscow summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev this summer.

Reagan 'Set Guidelines'

The speech, now in its fourth draft and virtually in its final form, is little changed from the first draft, according to Reagan aides. It follows guidelines laid down by the President just before Thanksgiving.

"We all know who we work for, and he set the basic guidelines months ago," said Thomas C. Griscom, director of White House communications.

In drafting past State of the Union messages, more pragmatic White House aides have dueled with the Administration's right-wing ideologues and usually have exerted a moderating influence over the final product. But this time, White House sources said, top aides decided that for Reagan's swan song to Congress they should stick strictly to the President's guidelines.

"The right-wingers wrote it," one former Reagan aide said. "It emphasizes his (the President's) social agenda and has a heavy conservative thrust."

The speech was prepared under the direction of Griscom and Anthony R. Dolan, director of speech writing, with help from other White House speech writers and recommendations from Gary L. Bauer, Reagan's domestic policy adviser.

"In the very opening of the speech," Griscom said, "the President lets it be known he won't sit back this year and put his feet up, that he has an agenda and will go to work and finish strong."

Proving 'Skeptics Wrong'

In the original draft, Reagan says progress can be made despite the distractions of a presidential election year. He chides critics who said tax reform and budget compromise could not be achieved, adding: "In each instance, we have proved the skeptics wrong. I say to you tonight: We can and we will prove them wrong again."

Bauer, declaring that he feels "pretty good" about the speech, said: "It's vintage Reagan, the kind of speech he could have easily made in 1981.

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