Bush Faults Democrats on Housing Crisis, Energy and Taxes

By: Ben Feller
By: Ben Feller


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush on Wednesday criticized Democrats in Congress for their approach to dealing with the nation's housing crisis and soaring energy prices and called anew for an extension of expiring tax cuts and government wiretapping authority.

Bush met at the White House with Republican leaders of Congress and then critiqued the Democrats' strategy for dealing with major problems.

He pledged to veto a broad housing rescue package moving through the House. The White House contends it is a burdensome bailout that would open taxpayers to too much risk, even though the bill includes some elements the administration supports. Instead, he pushed for an alternative bill backed by Republicans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded with her own critique of Bush's position.

"American families confronting foreclosure deserve better from the president than a veto threat," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "They deserve the House's bipartisan housing plan that will protect the American dream of home ownership."

The Democrats' measure, aimed at preventing foreclosures, would have the government step in to insure up to $300 billion in new mortgages for distressed homeowners. A House vote is expected by Thursday.

On gas prices, Bush again asserted that he understands the pinch on typical families. He pushed for steps that critics say would offer little help anytime in the short term, such as encouraging construction of oil refineries and allowing more oil drilling in areas where it is now precluded.

"No doubt about it, we're deeply concerned about the high price of gasoline," Bush said alongside House Republican leaders.

He said if Congress was worried about the impact that soaring gas prices were having on citizens, it would urge the construction of new domestic refineries and allow for environmentally friendly energy exploration in the United States.

Bush has long called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil development, and has chastised Congress for repeatedly blocking the proposal, which is strongly opposed by environmentalists, most Democrats and a few moderate Republicans.

Energy experts believe the refuge's likely 11 billion barrels of oil - pumped at just under 1 million barrels a day - would send a signal of increased U.S. interest in domestic energy production. However, in the long run, it likely would not significantly impact oil or gasoline prices. And it would have little impact on today's prices.

Oil futures blasted to a new record near $123 a barrel Tuesday, gaining momentum as investors bought on a forecast of much higher prices and on any news hinting at supply shortages. Retail gas prices edged lower, but appeared poised to rise to new records of their own in coming weeks.

The president also pushed again for priority legislation that has been stalled on Capitol Hill for weeks - a potential free-trade deal with Colombia, and a government eavesdropping bill designed to target the communications of suspected terrorists.

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