President Bush on Thursday acknowledged "unsettling times" in the U.S. housing and credit markets but said he was optimistic the economy would remain strong as long as Congress does not raise taxes.
In a wide-ranging news conference at the White House, Mr. Bush answered questions on the economy, Iraq and the Middle East, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP.
"There is no question there are some unsettling times in the housing markets and credits associated with the housing market," the president told reporters.
Asked about the chances of a recession, Mr. Bush responded that he is optimistic about the U.S. economy, "but I would be pessimistic if Congress does what it wants to do and raises taxes."
Pressed on the issue, Mr. Bush said, "You need to talk to an economist."
"I think I got a 'B' in Econ 101, but I got an 'A' in not raising taxes," he said.
The president rebuffed recent comments by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan suggesting that the administration had been fiscally irresponsible.
"My feelings are not hurt," he said. "I respectfully disagree with Alan Greenspan when he says we didn't handle the fiscal situation well, because we did."
Mr. Bush opened the news conference with a statement challenging Democrats on their proposal for a $35 billion increase in a children's health insurance program. The president has threatened to veto the bill.
The increase for the State Children's Health Insurance Program would bring total spending to about $60 billion, or twice the level sought by the administration.
The president urged lawmakers to send him a simple extension of the current program - which expires at the end of this month – if both sides cannot agree on terms of a new measure.
On the subject of Iraq, Mr. Bush said there has been progress in local communities in Iraq, but people are dissatisfied with the central government.
"Part of the reason why there's not this instant democracy in Iraq is because people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein's brutal rule. Sort of an interesting comment, I heard somebody say, `Where's Mandela?' Well, Mandela's dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas."
In the testiest exchange in the news conference, the president refused to answer a question about Israel's alleged bombing raid in Syria. A reporter asked if Mr. Bush could comment on the target and whether he supported the attack.
After a short back and forth, the president said "I'm not going to comment on the matter means I'm not going to comment on the matter."
With additional reporting from The Associated Press