Bush Puts Heat on Congress in Radio Address

Capitalizing on recent positive news about the economy, President Bush says Congress should support his agenda on trade, Social Security (search) and energy or risk endangering the economic security of the nation.

"For the sake of our nation's hardworking families, we must work together to achieve long-term economic security, so that we can continue to spread prosperity and hope throughout America and the world," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address (search).

Fears the economy could be entering a period of slower growth have eased somewhat in recent days as the government reported that job growth and retail sales rebounded sharply in April following weaker-than-expected readings in March. Analysts believe the initial 3.1 percent estimate for overall economic growth in the first quarter — the slowest performance in two years — will be revised upward to 3.5 percent or even better.

"The economy grew at a solid rate of 3.6 percent over the past four quarters, and economists expect strong growth for the rest of 2005," said Bush, who has scheduled three speeches next week to push his policies on trade, Social Security and energy.

On Monday, the president travels to West Point, Va. (search), to talk about using alternative fuels, such as biodiesel, hydrogen and ethanol, to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy.

The nation needs to encourage technologies that can ensure efficient use of existing resources, Bush said in his radio remarks. More must be done to conserve energy and help growing economic powerhouses, such as China and India, reduce global demand by cutting their use of hydrocarbons, he said.

"I applaud the House for passing an energy bill that is largely consistent with these goals," Bush said. "Now the Senate must act. Congress needs to get a good energy bill to my desk by the August recess so I can sign it into law."

On Tuesday, the president addresses his free-trade agenda, this time a proposal to grant duty-free status to six Central American and Caribbean nations. He plans to use the ceremonial swearing-in of U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman push for the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which faces stiff congressional resistance.

The accord is supported by business groups that covet greater access to the huge market of consumers. But many labor, human rights and immigration groups are working equally hard to defeat the measure because they say it does little to protect workers or the environment. Some lawmakers, including Republicans from textile and sugar-producing states, also fear the competition from cheaper imports.

"This agreement would help the new democracies in our hemisphere deliver better jobs and higher labor standards to their workers, and it would create a more level playing field for American goods and services," Bush said in his broadcast.

On Thursday, Bush's message in Milwaukee will be about Social Security. To an audience of young workers, he will plead with Congress to address Social Security's future solvency and allow future retirees to divert some of their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts.

The Social Security issue has divided Capitol Hill. House Democrats turned a Social Security hearing Thursday into a forum for fresh criticism of the president's ideas, repeatedly accusing him of seeking to privatize the program and cut benefits for million of retirees.

Public opinion polls show little enthusiasm for the personal retirement accounts, which nearly all congressional Democrats oppose. They insist the president abandon the idea before they will sit down for bipartisan negotiations.

"Because this money will be saved and invested, workers will have the opportunity to earn a higher rate of return on their money than anything the current Social Security system can now give them," Bush said on radio.