President Bush hosted an economic conference in Texas Tuesday, as part of his efforts to reassure Americans worried about the strength of the nation's economy. More than 240 people, from truck drivers, to entrepreneurs, to the heads of some of the nation's biggest corporations, took part in the meeting.
At the end of the day, the president told the participants that the economy will rebound from the damage done by the September 11 terrorist attacks and a series of corporate scandals.
"The foundations of the American economy are strong," he said. "Yet the only purpose of a strong foundation is to build on it."
He said the goal is sustained economic growth, adding it is vital for policy makers in Washington to hear the views of people who live far from the nation's capital, people who worry about their jobs, their retirement savings, and meeting the family budget.
"We have heard from Americans who are concerned but not discouraged," he said. "We've seen problems but we are confident in the long term health of this economy."
That theme ran through the eight panel discussions at the conference, each led by a top administration official. They talked about issues ranging from trade, to the high cost of health care, to worker training. But at each session, there was a reminder of the impact the corporate scandals have had on consumer confidence.
At a panel on economic recovery, Larry Johnston, the head of the Albertson's supermarket chain, said restoring faith in the business sector is crucial.
"As I talk to consumers every day, right down on the floor of a grocery store," he said, "people are concerned about this issue. And that is my job as a CEO and my fellow CEOs in this country. And now is not the time to hide. It is time to be out in front. It is time to put criminals in jail."
The series of high-profile cases of corporate wrongdoing have led to steep plunges in the stock market, affecting Americans from all walks of life. Senior citizens, who have seen their investments dwindle, have been among the hardest hit. They say they can not wait years to recover their losses.
Freda Green told a session on health care policy that she is among the seniors now facing tough budget choices. "I want to speak for the heart of America, for the senior citizens that are suffering, who want action now. We don't want to wait two or three years!", he said.
There was little criticism of Bush administration policies at the half-day forum, which was held on the campus of Baylor University, about a half-hour drive from the president's ranch. No members of Congress were invited and Democrats complained that the conference was merely a public relations effort by the White House.
President Bush referred to his differences with congressional Democrats only once during the event. He said he would not release about $5 billion added by Congress to a bill providing funding for the war on terrorism. The president said if Congress will not show fiscal restraint, he will.