WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush said Tuesday that Congress is
blocking his proposals to deal with high gas prices and dragging
its feet on other issues to address the nation's sagging economy.
He said he was open to any idea in terms of energy, including a
proposal backed by John McCain and Hillary Clinton to suspend gas
and diesel taxes this summer.
But, he said, he favored longer-term fixes, such as encouraging
new oil production in the United States and the building of new
"It's a tough time for our economy," Bush said at a Rose
Garden news conference. "Across our country, many Americans are
understandably anxious about issues affecting their pocketbook,
from gas and food prices to mortgage and tuition bills. They're
looking to their elected leaders in Congress for action.
"Unfortunately, on many of these issues, all they're getting is
delay," he said.
Bush was asked about a proposal by Republican presidential
contender John McCain, later endorsed by Democrat Hillary Rodham
Clinton, to suspend taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel for the
summer travel season. The tax is 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline
and 24.4 cents on diesel fuel.
"I'm open to any ideas and we'll analyze anything that comes
up," he said.
But Bush also said he didn't want to inject himself into the
ongoing presidential race. Of the three candidates, only Democrat
Barack Obama has not backed the gas tax proposal.
The average price of a gallon of gas has reached $3.60
Bush renewed his objection to calls that the government
discontinue keeping up the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve
supply while oil prices are so high. "If I thought it would affect
the price of oil significantly, I would seriously consider it," he
said of an idea embraced by many Democrats and some Republicans.
Bush also said that it was important to keep filling the
reserve, in underground salt domes in Texas and Louisiana, in case
there is a terror attack on the nation's oil supplies. He also once
again called for Congress to permit drilling in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge, a proposal he has made repeatedly since he first
took office in 2001, and to pave the way for the building of new
"Another reason for high gas prices is the lack of refining
capacity. It's been more than 30 years since America built its last
new refinery. Yet in this area, too, Congress has repeatedly
blocked efforts to expand capacity and build more refineries,"
The president revived an earlier proposal that shuttered
military bases be used as sites for new refineries. In the past,
oil and energy experts have expressed little interest in that,
saying military bases often aren't situated where the oil pipelines
He sidestepped a question on whether there should be a second
stimulus package. Rebates started to go out this week as part of a
$168 billion stimulus package enacted in February. The checks will
range to up $600 for an individual, $1,200 for a couple and an
additional $300 for each eligible dependent child.
"Now, you know, after a period of time, the money is beginning
to arrive. We'll see what the effects are," he said.
Bush also called on Congress to act more quickly on legislation
to make more student loans available and to help homeowners facing
As he has in the past, Bush declined to call the current
economic slowdown a recession, even though many economists say the nation is already in one.
"You know, the words on how to define the economy don't reflect
the anxiety the American people feel," Bush said. "The average
person doesn't really care what we call it. The average person
wants to know whether or not we know that they're paying higher
gasoline prices and they're worried about staying in their homes."
Asked if he thought government figures due out Wednesday on the
nation's gross domestic product for the period from January through
March would show the country was indeed in a recession, Bush said,
"I think they'll show we're in a very slow economy."