U.S. President George Bush says he is concerned about rising gasoline prices and the effects of higher energy costs on an already slowing economy. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush made the comments in New Orleans, where he has been meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
President Bush says the U.S. economy is not in recession, but there is no doubt it is slowing down with higher food and health care costs depressing retail sales and a growing number of Americans struggling to make their house payments.
Record-high oil and gasoline prices are only making things worse. Speaking to reporters at the close of a summit with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, President Bush again called on Congress to approve a controversial plan that would allow drilling for oil in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.
"No question rising gasoline prices are like a tax on our working people," he said. "What is happening is that we have had an energy policy that neglected hydrocarbons in the United States for a long period of time, and now we are paying the price."
The president's comments came as the price of crude oil reached a new record above $119 a barrel and the U.S. dollar hit a record low against the euro. The U.S. housing market also continues to drag down the economy. Home sales and prices fell again last month with banks repossessing more and more homes as owners default on their mortgages.
Mexican President Calderon said the U.S. slowdown is being felt beyond its borders.
"I think that the steps taken so far by the fiscal tax monetary authorities in the United States and the Bush administration and in general have been appropriate. They have been the right measures, and we hope that they will very soon demonstrate effects so that we have a quick recovery among all our economies."
President Bush and opposition Democrats in Congress agreed on a temporary economic stimulus package of business incentives and tax rebates earlier this year. Mr. Bush said tax rebate checks should reach more than 130 million households next month, and that should begin to help the economy by the start of the third economic quarter in July.
He also called on Congress to make his record tax cuts permanent and criticized Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for saying they would repeal some of those cuts for wealthier Americans.
"You got people out there campaigning, 'Well, we are just going to tax the rich.' You can't raise enough money to meet their spending appetites by taxing the so-called rich," he said. "Every one of those so-called tax-the-rich schemes ends up taxing the middle class families. And in a time of economic uncertainty, we need tax certainty. At a time of rising gasoline prices, we need to be sending a message to all Americans: We are not going to raise your taxes."
This was the last North American leaders' summit for President Bush, who will be leaving office before next year's meeting in Mexico.