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Bush: US Economy Strong

President Bush says the U.S. economy is strong, despite slower-than-expected job growth last month.

With new government figures showing the unemployment rate below five percent, President Bush says Americans are going to work, the economy is strong and he intends to keep it that way.

"The American economy heads into 2006 with a full head of steam," he said. "Our economy grew at more than four percent in the third quarter. We've been growing at nearly that rate for two years. The American consumer is confident."

The new figures show the economy added 108,000 new jobs during December, about half what economists predicted. But President Bush focused on the positive in an upbeat speech about rising durable goods orders and real disposable income.

In a speech to economic leaders in the Midwest city of Chicago, Mr. Bush again called on Congress to make permanent his record tax cuts, which he says have helped turn around the U.S. economy.

"We have boosted confidence in our economy. More people have more money to invest. As a result, the stock market has added nearly $3 trillion in value," he added.

To maintain that growth, the president says, Congress must restrain government spending and increase investments in education and worker training.

He says he will press for agreements to liberalize trade in the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks, because that will help U.S. producers.

"I'm telling you, it's in the farmers' interest that we are selling soybeans in China," he explained. "It is in our interest that we have a free-trading world. If we wall ourselves off from the rest of the world, a bunch of other folks are going to take advantage of the opportunity of free trade. This is an important issue for our country. We've got to be confident in our ability to compete."

President Bush said his political opponents in Washington want to take money out of taxpayers' pockets by opposing the extension of certain tax cuts.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the president is seeking another round of cuts for the wealthy, while middle-class families, she said, are struggling to pay their bills.

The president's speech in Chicago topped a busy day of trumpeting economic gains for the Bush administration with Vice President Dick Cheney in Missouri, Treasury Secretary John Snow in New York, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in Kentucky and Energy Secretary Sam Bodman in Pennsylvania.