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Bush Pleased With Economic Data

President Bush (search) cited recent positive economic reports on Tuesday to promote his domestic agenda, including his embattled plan to restructure Social Security (search).

"The economy of the United States is strong and the foundation for sustained growth is in place," Bush declared, flanked by members of his domestic policy team after a strategy session on his Texas ranch.

Bush cited last Friday's report that the economy created 207,000 jobs in July -- the best showing in three months. That followed reports that the economy expanded at a solid 3.4 percent rate in the April-June quarter.

In contrast to Bush's upbeat assessment, public opinion of his handling of the economy is not as positive. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month showed his economic approval rating at 41 percent -- his lowest rating yet on that poll.

Not all the economic news has been good. Real wages have been stagnant. Economists suggest most of the recent economic gains have gone to higher-income and higher net-worth households. And while job growth has improved recently, the level of U.S. jobs is still not back to the levels before the 2001 recession.

"There's still some challenges to the economy. And we want the American people to know there are challenges and we're working to meet them," Bush said.

Some analysts are concerned that the economic growth could be derailed by rising energy prices. Crude oil prices jumped to a new high Monday, near $64 a barrel, reflecting the market's persistent uneasiness about high demand, tight supplies and threats to production around the world.

Responding to solid economic growth, the Federal Reserve (search) is widely expected to raise interest rates another quarter-point Tuesday. It would be the 10th hike since June 2004.

Bush's Social Security proposal is stalled in Congress. It faces widespread opposition from Democrats who object to Bush's plan to divert a portion of Social Security tax revenues to set up private investment accounts for workers under the age of 55.

While congressional Republicans have expressed doubts about getting Social Security legislation approved, Treasury Secretary John Snow said Monday, "I remain optimistic that we will get something done there. ... I think in the fall you will see us heavily engaged on the Social Security issue."

Snow said the administration also will be pushing forward to overhaul the U.S. tax code after a presidential panel issues recommendations in late September.

The President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform said last month that that the alternative minimum tax, designed to hit affluent tax dodgers but now hovering over the middle class, should be abolished. The consensus to repeal the tax, however, means the panel must replace the $1.2 trillion that the Treasury Department expected to collect through that tax over the coming decade.

Among others attending Tuesday's meeting: Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Ben Bernanke and White House chief of staff Andy Card.