President Bush says U.S. Senators must move quickly to approve a $146 billion economic stimulus plan already passed by the House of Representatives. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the U.S. economy lost jobs last month for the first time in more than four years.
President Bush says it is a serious matter that after 52 months of consecutive job growth, the U.S. economy lost 17,000 jobs in January. The Labor Department says the biggest drops came from factory, building, and government payrolls, which were only partially offset by gains in service industries.
The president told supporters in Kansas City that while America's economic fundamentals remain strong, there are serious signs that the economy is weakening. Higher fuel costs and a declining housing market have hurt the economy. Growth in the fourth quarter of last year was 0.6 percent.
Mr. Bush says the economy needs targeted tax cuts to encourage consumers and business leaders to spend more money to stimulate growth.
A bipartisan package of tax cuts and incentives negotiated by the White House has already passed the House of Representatives. But Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want to add to the plan, slowing its passage.
President Bush says much of the plan's ability to stimulate the economy depends on it being approved quickly, and he is calling for decisive action.
"It's very important for the Senate to finish their work quickly, because the sooner we can get money into our consumers' hands the more likely it is that the economy will recover from this period of uncertainty," he said. "The fundamentals are strong. We are just in a rough patch, as witnessed by employment figures today. I am confident we can get through this rough patch and one way to do it is for Congress and the administration to work collaboratively and get this deal done."
The House of Representatives' $146 billion plan includes a $600 rebate for many taxpayers plus $300 per child. The Senate wants $500 refunds for twice as many people, including disabled veterans and older Americans who are not included in the House plan.
Some Senate Democrats also want to extend unemployment benefits, food aid, and home heating assistance. President Bush has stopped short of threatening to veto the Senate's $157 billion stimulus plan. Vice President Dick Cheney says any changes could derail the bill altogether.
The Senate is expected to begin a series of votes on its stimulus plan in the coming week.