CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush is taking a quick break from vacationing at his Texas ranch to stir up enthusiasm about the economy — an issue where his poll numbers are low despite encouraging signs about jobs and the pace of economic growth.
"Our economy is strong, yet I will not be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a job," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address, taped at the ranch where he'll meet with his economic team on Tuesday.
The president's approval rating for handling the economy is at 41 percent — his lowest rating yet on that measure in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. The rating, reported in a survey conducted Aug. 1-3, comes at a time of positive reports about the economy. Nervousness about ongoing violence in Iraq (search) could be causing pessimism to seep into other areas like the economy.
Bush said the tax cuts he orchestrated have helped stimulate economic vitality — and help swell the government's coffers. Because of increased revenues to the Treasury, this year's federal deficit is expected to fall to around $350 billion from the record $413 billion in 2004.
"The increased revenues and our spending restraint have led to good progress in reducing the federal deficit," the president said.
"I set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009, and we are ahead of pace to meet that goal."
The labor market is the one part of the economy that has had difficulty getting back to full health after the 2001 recession, but the most recent unemployment report that showed U.S. employers cranked up their hiring in July. They added 207,000 payroll jobs — the most since April. The employment rate in July remained steady at 5 percent.
"Recent economic reports show that our economy is growing faster than any other major industrialized nation," Bush said. "Small businesses are flourishing. Workers are taking home more of what they earn."
Workers' average hourly earnings rose to $16.13 in July. That was 0.4 percent more than the average in June of $16.07. The increase was the most in a year. That's good for workers but was a bit worrisome to some economists who fret about inflation pressures picking up.
Last month, an AP-Ipsos poll found that Americans had turned much of their attention back to the economy and foreign affairs — including the war in Iraq and terrorism — as the nation's top problems.
The fade in economic optimism may be related to concerns about terrorism, rising energy prices, worries about inflated home prices that may eventually drop again and anxiety over retirement security.
In his broadcast, Bush said he'll go to Albuquerque, N.M., on Monday to sign an energy bill that he says will diversify U.S. energy supply and make America less dependent on foreign oil.
Some senators said the bill does nothing to reduce the high cost of energy, especially at the gasoline pump, and will not reduce the nation's heavy reliance on oil imports. Its supporters, including Bush, maintain that in the long term it will refocus the country's energy priorities and promote cleaner energy and more conservation.