Congress Delaying Energy, Housing Aids, Bush Says

President Bush sought on Tuesday to blame Congress for the country's high fuel, electricity and food prices, saying lawmakers had been an obstacle to his proposals to address the problems.

At a Rose Garden news conference, the president acknowledged that it was a "tough time for our economy" and that Americans were "understandably anxious."

The president then presented a litany of proposals he said Congress had thwarted.

"I've repeatedly submitted proposals to help address these problems," the president said. "Yet time after time, Congress chose to block them."

Bush said the lawmakers had not acted on "critical legislation that would modernize the Federal Housing Administration, reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to refinance subprime loans."

He also said Congress was dragging its feet on legislation to make more student loans available and ease the mortgage crunch.

The president accused lawmakers of standing in the way of his plan to deal with high gas prices, namely by opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, for "environmentally safe" drilling.

"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.

He reiterated his call for increasing production of "clean, safe nuclear power."

'These Are Difficult Times'

The president said he was open to a proposal to suspend gas and diesel taxes over the summer. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents a gallon and 24.4 cents for diesel.

Two of the presidential candidates — Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Democratic hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton — back a tax holiday on gasoline. Clinton's Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, opposes it, calling it a gimmick that won't provide any significant relief to motorists. Gas prices average about $3.60 a gallon nationally.

Asked whether he was premature in saying the U.S. economy is not in a recession, the president said the average person was not concerned about the words used to describe the economic sluggishness — only about whether officials were aware of its impact.

"These are difficult times. And the American people know it, and they want to know whether or not Congress knows it," the president said.

The economic problems of average Americans have increased in recent months. The housing crisis, combined with fast-rising prices for food and gasoline and a weakening job market, have all put stress on family finances. Economists are divided over whether the country has officially fallen into a recession. But for many Americans, there's little doubt it feels like one.

Watching Economic Indicators

A clearer picture of the economy could emerge on Wednesday, when the government releases the gross domestic product results for the first three months of the year. If it shows that the economy contracted, a consensus will build that the economy has moved into a recession. The White House is hoping that a recession can be avoided with the help of the stimulus payments that are starting to be received by tax filers.

Nearly six million payments will be made by direct deposit into taxpayer accounts by the end of the week. Under the stimulus program, single filers earning less than $75,000 receive rebates of up to $600. Couples earning less than $150,000 receive payments of up to $1,200. And parents receive rebates for children as well. Up to 130 million taxpayers will receive rebate payments by July.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) found fault with the president's accusations that Congress has delayed solutions to America's problems.

"The truth is the president has closed his eyes and placed his hands over his ears as these problems have grown," Schumer said.

The senator then said that Bush is "plain wrong" and has "repeatedly ignored shots across the bow about the deteriorating economy."

The president's talk comes on a day of more troubling news for the economy, amid record high oil prices, food prices and foreclosures. A report released by RealtyTrac on Tuesday found that foreclosure rates more than doubled in February from early 2007.

The New York-based Conference Board also said that its Consumer Confidence Index, which had plummeted in March, fell again to 62.3 in April, down from the revised 65.9 last month and 76.4 in February. The index remains at its weakest point since March 2003.

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