President George Bush says the United States faces difficult economic times - a situation made worse by congressional inaction. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the White House, where Mr. Bush held a news conference.
President Bush says he does not know whether America's sagging economic performance meets the technical definition of a recession. But he says, without a doubt, conditions are "tough" for Americans struggling with high energy prices, soaring food costs, a plummeting housing market and tight credit.
"Across our country, many Americans are understandably anxious about issues affecting their pocketbook: from gas and food prices to mortgage and tuition bills," Mr. Bush said.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Bush said his administration has made a series of proposals to shield the American people from the worst effects of the economic turndown and to address long-term energy needs. But, he said Congress has refused to act on the proposals from extending tax cuts to expanding America's oil refinery capacity.
He was particularly critical of congressional resistance to authorizing oil exploration in a national wildlife refuge in Alaska, known as ANWAR.
"Members of Congress have been vocal about foreign governments increasing their oil production, yet Congress has been just as vocal in opposition to efforts to expand our production here at home," Mr. Bush said. "They have repeatedly blocked environmentally safe exploration in ANWAR. The Department of Energy estimates that ANWAR could allow America to produce about a million additional barrels of oil every day."
Mr. Bush urged congressional leaders of both parties to work together and take concrete steps to address America's economic and energy needs.
His comments provoked a swift response from congressional Democrats, who control both legislative houses. New York Senator Charles Schumer says the president is out of touch with the American people, and late in leading the charge for action on the economy.
"The president and the White House have repeatedly ignored repeated shots across the bow of our economy: rising foreclosures, falling home prices, withering consumer confidence, and record oil company profits," Schumer said. "None of them are being addressed."
On Alaskan oil drilling, Mr. Schumer said it would take years before new crude started flowing, and that the oil generated would have a negligible affect on gasoline prices.
The back-and-forth between the White House and Capitol Hill on economic matters came amid a mixed batch of U.S. financial indicators. U.S. consumer confidence now stands at a five-year low, a sign that consumer spending may slow in the months to come. Another report shows U.S. housing prices dropped in February at the fastest rate ever recorded.
On a more positive note for American consumers, oil prices receded amid reports of falling domestic demand for fossil fuels.