Bush blames Congressional Dems for economic woes
President Bush pointed the finger at Congress Tuesday, claiming its Democratic leaders were essentially solely responsible for the nation's economic woes.
To address the energy crisis, Bush rolled out a laundry list of longtime Republican wishes, such as opening oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, building more oil refineries and increasing reliance on nuclear power.
"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.
Congressional Democrats quickly responded, accusing the president of a short-sighted pursuit of proposals that would benefit big oil companies at the expense of the American people.
"Oil price goes through the roof and what does the president do? He takes out the old saw of ANWR," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), speaking at a rebuttal press conference. "ANWR wouldn't produce a drop of oil in 10 years, and it's estimated that if they drilled in ANWR, in 20 years it would reduce the price one penny. And that's the president's answer to the oil crisis."
Schumer panned Bush for saying virtually nothing about pursuing alternative and renewable energy and doing nothing to reign in massive oil company profits.
"The president's energy policy for the last seven years has basically been, 'What's good for big oil is good for America," he said. "We ask ... on whose side is the president? Which side is he on? You can't be on both; you can't be both for big oil and for lower prices."
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 nationwide.
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 refineries.
"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," Bush said.
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 are anyhow.
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 foreclosure.
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."
With wire reports