Bush seeks to ease Americans fears over economy

Washington, Jan 29 | Updated: Jan 30 2008, 05:46am hrs
President George W Bush sought to calm Americans fears about the economy on Monday while charting a course he hopes will keep him relevant in his final year in office. With the specter of recession supplanting the Iraq war as the top US concern, Bush acknowledged in his final State of the Union address that growth was slowing but insisted the countrys long-term economic fundamentals were sound.

He prodded Congress to act quickly on a $150 billion economic stimulus package laid out last week and resist the temptation to load up the plan with additional provisions.

In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth. But in the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing, Bush said in a globally televised speech to the US Congress. Politically weakened by the unpopular war in Iraq, eclipsed by the race to choose his successor and scrambling to stave off lame-duck status, Bush presented no bold new ideas.

Bush urged Americans to be patient with the mission in Iraq almost five years after the US-led invasion.

He touted security gains in Iraq he ascribed to a troop buildup ordered last January but gave no hint of any further troop reductions there, asserting that such decisions would depend on his commanders recommendations.

Calling on Iran to come clean on its nuclear program, he issued a stern warning to Tehran, which he had branded part of an axis of evil in his 2002 State of the Union speech.

Above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf, Bush said. Bushs seventh State of the Union speech was a chance to set the tone for his waning months in the White House and try to salvage his frayed legacy before he leaves office in January 2009. Sandwiched between Saturdays Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina and Tuesdays Republican contest in Florida, Bush will struggle to make himself heard above the growing din of the 2008 election campaign. At the top of his speech agenda was a push for congressional passage of a stimulus package meant to avert recession in an economy suffering from high oil prices and a housing slump.

At kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future, Bush said, acknowledging rising food and gas prices and increasing unemployment. He is trying to head off attempts by some Senate Democrats to expand the plan beyond the tax rebates and business investment incentives agreed with House of Representatives leaders last week.

The impetus for compromise is that no one, least of all an unpopular president nearing the end of his watch, wants to be blamed for an economic meltdown before the November 4 elections. Some economists say the stimulus measures may buy time but will not be enough to solve the woes that have roiled global financial markets.

Delivering the Democratic response to Bush, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius called the plan only a temporary fix and urged Democrats and Republicans to work together so we wont have to wait for a new president to restore Americas role in the world.

On Iraq, Bush was in a better position than a year ago, when he implored skeptical Americans to embrace his plan to send thousands more troops to Iraq. Our enemies in Iraq have been hit hard, he said. They have not been defeated, and we can still expect tough fighting ahead. He announced no new troop reductions despite continuing calls from Democrats for a withdrawal timetable, something polls show most Americans want as well.

Reuters