STEVE INSKEEP, host:
President Bush today offered this analysis of gas prices and the state of the U.S. economy.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Past 18 months, gas prices have gone up by $1.40 per gallon. Electricity prices for small business and families are rising as well. I've repeatedly submitted proposals to help address these problems. Yet time after time Congress chose to block them.
INSKEEP: The president was speaking at a White House news conference this morning. NPR economics correspondent John Ydstie has been listening in and joins us now. John, good morning.
JOHN YDSTIE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Sounds like a bit of a pattern there on issue after issue, the president saying if there's a problem, not my fault, Congress's fault.
YDSTIE: I think that's right. The president came out and acknowledged problems in gas prices, food prices, with student loans, with housing foreclosures, but in every case he ticked down and said and said the reason these problems are here is because Congress isn't acting on what I want them to act on.
INSKEEP: And one example I guess we could mention is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR. Let's hear a little bit about what the president had to say about oil drilling there.
President BUSH: This is a litmus test issue for many in Congress. Somehow if you mention ANWR it means you don't care about the environment. Well, I'm hoping now people when they say ANWR means you don't care about the gasoline prices that people...
INSKEEP: And let's just remember, this is something that President Bush has been talking about through I believe his entire administration. Is it any closer to being reality that there be oil drilling there than it was seven years ago?
YDSTIE: Certainly not any closer, and I think especially, given the president's current low approval ratings in all of these areas, he's going to have trouble getting what he wants to get out of Congress.
INSKEEP: Which gets to the next question. Is there anything new that the president is talking about that he might be able to agree with Congress on and move forward on to deal with energy problems or economic problems?
YDSTIE: You know, we didn't hear anything there today. There has been some talk between the two parties on the housing side, and there's some area, I think, where you could see compromise on getting money to help the government buy mortgages and that sort of thing. But in most areas, certainly this morning we didn't hear anything new from the president.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about another idea that's out there - a gas tax moratorium. What is it? Who likes it? Where does it stand?
YDSTIE: Well, this is something that was proposed by John McCain. He wants to have a gas tax holiday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Federal gas tax is about 18 and a half cents a gallon, and presumably the price at the pump would fall by that much if you took off the holiday. Hillary Clinton supports this as well. Critics - Barack Obama does not, and many critics say, as he does, that this money goes to build infrastructure and we're sadly in need of new infrastructure.
INSKEEP: Goes for highways and that sort of thing.
YDSTIE: But in addition it is a short term measure and it will not lessen demand for gasoline or lessen demand for oil. It'll increase demand, and what Americans actually need to be doing over the long term now is to reduce their demand.
INSKEEP: So we have a president basically saying for the moment, I'm powerless to do anything about the economy. It's Congress's fault. Congress saying they can't agree with the president on an agenda. Who does have the power to do something right now?
YDSTIE: Well, you know, I think the Congress does have power to do some things on this home mortgage crisis, and it's working on it now. Of course the Fed is meeting today, and again is wondering whether it should lower interest rates. Probably will. And I think it'll be probably the last interest rates the Fed lowers for a while. They'll wait and see how things go.
INSKEEP: Okay, that's NPR economics correspondent John Ydstie talking with us about President Bush's news conference today and his statements on the economy.
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