The Bush administration is backing away from its prediction that the U.S. economy will add more than 2.5 million jobs by the end of the year. Unemployment and the health of the U.S. economy are major issues in this year's presidential election.

Just last week, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report predicting the creation of 2.6 million jobs by the end of the year.

But on a tour to promote the president's economic plan this week, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Commerce Secretary Don Evans both declined to endorse that prediction, saying it was based on economic assumptions that could change.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan would not say whether President Bush still stands by that figure, telling reporters that Mr. Bush is not a statistician.

Asked about the jobs estimate before a meeting with the Tunisian president, Mr. Bush said he thinks the economy is growing. "I'm mindful that there are still people looking for work, and we've got to continue building on the progress we have made so far," he said.

The president did not mention his economic advisors' prediction on jobs, and instead repeated parts of his economic plan, which includes opening more free trade agreements, reducing health care costs and making record tax cuts permanent.

More than two million people have lost their jobs since Mr. Bush took office, making it possible, analysts say, that he could be the first president in more than 70 years to end his first term in office with fewer jobs than when he started.

Democrats campaigning for the November election are challenging the president on the economy, especially on unemployment in the manufacturing sector.

Most economists believe the official White House prediction of 2.6 million jobs by the end of the year is far too optimistic and would require adding more than 200,000 jobs a month. Employment is currently growing by about half that number.