CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush tried Saturday to assure many families that he knows they are struggling to pay bills, even as he again defended the economy’s strength.
“Some of you worry about your ability to afford health care coverage for your families,” Bush said in his weekly radio address, recorded at his Texas ranch.
“Some of you are concerned about meeting your monthly mortgage payments,” Bush said. “Some of you worry about the impact of rising energy costs on fueling your cars and heating your homes. You expect your elected leaders in Washington to address these pressures.”
Bush said he and Congress recently came to terms on some ways to help, including an energy bill and a measure to help families avoid a tax hit when they refinance a mortgage.
But he also chided lawmakers again for slipping an estimated 9,800 pet projects, known in Washington lingo as earmarks, into a massive spending bill at the end of their session. Bush signed the bill this week.
“Among the earmarks Congress approved was one for a prison museum and another for a sailing school,” Bush said. “In the last election, congressional leaders ran on a promise that they would reform earmarks. They made some progress, but not nearly enough.”
Bush has asked his budget director to review what the White House can do about the special-project spending, although its options are limited. Meanwhile, in his final radio address of the year, the president spun the economic theme into a personal resolution.
“My resolution for the New Year is this: to work with Congress to keep our economy growing, to keep your tax burden low and to ensure that the money you send to Washington is spent wisely — or not at all,” Bush said.
As the economy has been battered by a mortgage crisis, a credit crunch and low consumer confidence, Bush has sought to show he is in touch with the typical family’s concerns. He also has cited a range of indicators — such as export numbers and unemployment rates — to back up his view that the underlying economy is strong and resilient.
“Economic statistics are important indicators,” Bush said. “Yet it is more important to remember that behind all these numbers are real people.”
Democratic leaders suggest Bush has been in denial about the economy, offering an overly rosy portrait while many families deal with soaring costs.
Delivering the Democratic radio address, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said that her party has delivered results for working families during its year in charge of Congress.
“We have a vision for strengthening the economy by supporting hard-working Americans and their families,” she said. “We have fixed the alternative minimum tax to protect middle-class families, raised the minimum wage and funded small business tax cuts to address the pressures of high fuel prices, increasing health care costs and rising property taxes.”
Bush is spending the final days of 2007 vacationing at his Texas ranch without any scheduled public appearances. He returns to Washington on New Year’s Day.