The president's speech will be delivered to a joint session of the US Congress, where Democrats have been criticising Bush on a range of issues that include the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina relief and a domestic spying programme.

Coming off one of the toughest stretches of his presidency and as his job approval ratings hover in the high 30s to low 40s in most polls, Bush is expected to highlight domestic priorities like energy, health care and economic growth.

He will also express optimism on Iraq, support for Iranians who want greater freedom and his views about the need for spreading democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

"I'm looking forward to speaking to the country. We've got a lot to be proud of. We've got a lot of work to do," Bush said on Monday after meeting with his cabinet.

"And I'll do my best to elevate the tone here in Washington, DC, so we can work together to achieve big things for the American people," he said.

Bush agenda

Bush is seeking to boost his standing after a year in which his popularity sank to an all-time low as the public became increasingly concerned about the Iraq war, angry about record-high gasoline prices and disappointed by the slow federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted between 26-29 January of 1011 adults showed Bush's approval rating at 39%, unchanged from last month's poll.

"I'm looking forward to speaking to the country. We've got a lot to be proud of. We've got a lot of work to do"

George Bush,
US president

"What President Bush will outline is not only an agenda for America, but, obviously, an agenda for his own party to provide an optimistic forward-looking set of proposals," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said on the Fox television programme "Fox and Friends".

Tall task

Bush's challenge is to outline a plan that Republicans who control Congress can use to try to avoid what has been the historical norm - the party in power loses seats in midterm elections, election years in which a president is not chosen.

"It is very important that the president thematically shows where we're going in terms of the vision and an agenda," Senate Majority leader Bill Frist said on CNN's "American Morning".

Bush also will focus on initiatives to address the soaring cost of health care by expanding the use of tax-preferred savings accounts and giving tax breaks to Americans without employer-provided health insurance.

The speech has gone through more than 30 drafts and runs 38 minutes without applause.

"I hope the president, in his State of the Union, will really try to do what he said he's going to do for five years: that is, be a uniter, not a divider," Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on CNN. "Everything that he's done is just the opposite of what he has said."