Bush Blames Congress for Not Passing Foreclosure, Gas Bills

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush on Tuesday accused the Democratic-led Congress of blocking his proposals to deal with rising gas prices and dragging its feet on measures to address the sagging economy. He said he was "open to any ideas," including a proposal backed by presidential contenders John McCain and Hillary Clinton to suspend gas and diesel taxes this summer

But Bush quickly said that he favors longer-term fixes, such as encouraging new oil production in the United States and building new refineries at home. He renewed his call for opening areas of Alaska wilderness to oil exploration and production.

"If there was a magic wand to wave, I'd be waving it, of course," he told reporters at a Rose Garden news conference called on short notice. "But there is no magic wand to wave right now. It took us a while to get to this fix."

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The president's hour-long question-and-answer session under sunny skies came on the eve of a government report on the state of the economy in the first three months of the year.

"It's a tough time for our economy," Bush said.

Many business analysts believe the economy already has slipped into recession, but the president -- as in the past -- declined to use that term.

"You know, the words on how to define the economy don't reflect the anxiety the American people feel," the president said. "You know, the average person doesn't really care what we call it."

Asked if he thought the statistics due out Wednesday on the nation's gross domestic product for 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."

Two straight quarterly contractions in the GDP -- which measures business growth -- is the common definition of a recession. But the official determination -- made by the National Bureau of Economic Research -- takes longer and is based on a more complicated formula.

Just 27 percent of the people questioned about Bush's handling of the economy said they approved, in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month. It was his worst showing ever in the survey and was down 4 percentage points since March. In a separate AP-Yahoo News poll this month, people named the economy as the nation's top problem, with gas prices a close second and the Iraq war far behind.

Bush spoke shortly after a report that said consumer confidence fell further in April amid heightened concerns about soaring inflation and the weakening job market. The Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 62.3 in April, down from the revised 65.9 in March, said the Conference Board, a private research group.

Bush was asked about a proposal to suspend fuel taxes for the summer travel season, first made by Republican McCain and later endorsed by Democrat Clinton but not by her rival, Barack Obama. The tax is 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents on diesel fuel. The average price of a gallon of gas has reached $3.60 nationwide.

"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 and favored longer term alternatives.

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