- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

WASHINGTON — President Bush this morning said American families are “understandably anxious” about the economy, but blamed the Democratic Congress for blocking bills he said would have helped lower gas prices.

“I believe that they’re letting the American people down,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m perplexed, I guess, is the best way to describe it, about why there’s no action, inactivity on big issues.”

He also did not deny, as he did one week ago, that the U.S. is in a recession, instead sidestepping specific questions and saying that “the average person doesn’t really care what we call it.”

“The average person wants to know whether or not we know that they’re paying higher gasoline prices and that they’re worried about staying in their homes, and I do understand that,” Mr. Bush said, during a Rose Garden press conference.

But the president’s rhetoric was a marked departure from his confident statement one week ago, at a news conference in New Orleans with the Canadian and Mexican heads of state.

“We’re not in a recession. We’re in a slowdown,” he said last week.

Mr. Bush said Congress has blocked his efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and opposed building more oil refineries in the U.S. and nuclear power plants.

But Democratic leaders said that the president’s own policies over more than seven years in office have helped create the current crisis, and said they plan to pass legislation soon to help college students afford school loans.

“The president has proclaimed that he is the ‘Decider,’ but this morning all he tried to do is pass the buck to someone else rather than accept responsibility for his administration’s failed economic policies and escalating gas prices,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

“For his first six years in office, the president and the Republican majorities in Congress did virtually nothing to address gasoline prices and to make America more energy independent,” Mr. Hoyer said.

“Then, with new Democratic majorities in Congress, we passed landmark energy legislation that will increase fuel economy and invest in renewable and alternative fuel sources.”

The president, in his second White House press conference this year, focused on gas prices and energy costs, with oil having recently hit $120 a barrel and gas heading towards $4 a gallon this summer.

He said he would consider the “gas tax holiday” from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which has been proposed by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee from Arizona.

But he rejected calls from Republicans and Democrats to stop diverting 67,000 barrels of oil a day to the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve (SPR), saying that using that oil would have little impact on the world market demand, which is about 85 million barrels a day.

Sixteen Republican senators, in a letter to Mr. Bush today, said that a suspension of SPR deposits “will send the right signal to all markets that the U.S. Government will take measures necessary to address exorbitant crude oil prices that negatively affect the global economy.”

“We believe, in light of the dramatic increase in oil prices, a temporary halt to deposits into the SPR should be considered until the economy stabilizes,” said the letter, which was distributed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Mr. Bush’s home state of Texas.

Mr. Bush, however, said that Congress could increase U.S. oil capacity by 20 percent if they allowed for exploration in Alaska, “and that would likely mean lower gas prices.”

“There are a lot of reserves to be found in ANWR. That’s a given,” Mr. Bush said. “We can explore in environmentally friendly ways.”

“And yet this is a litmus-test issue for many in Congress. Somehow if you mention ANWR it means you don’t care about the environment. Well, I’m hoping now people, when they say ANWR, it means you don’t care about the gasoline prices that people are paying,” he said.

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