CAMP DAVID, Md. – High gasoline prices, a slowing economy and upcoming congressional elections were the backdrop Friday of President Bush's annual meeting with his top economic team, held this year in a cooler clime.
Instead of gathering at his Texas ranch, where the mercury is topping 100 degrees, the president and his advisers huddled at the shady Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.
The meeting, which began with a dinner Thursday evening, comes at a time when only 37 percent of Americans support his handling of the economy, according to AP-Ipsos polling in early August. It also comes about two months before congressional midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans continue to control the House and the Senate.
"Every year the president takes time in August to meet with his economic team for an in-depth discussion about the economy and how we can be sure that the administration's policies are on track to keep the economy strong and growing," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Perino said they would discuss the macroeconomic picture and job growth, financial markets, tax policy, the budget and current and future spending on government entitlement programs.
Among those in attendance: Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, National Economic Council Director Allan Hubbard and White House budget chief Rob Portman.
Cheney recently predicted that the Republicans would prevail in the midterm elections partly because the U.S. economy is "kicking along in very good shape."
Democrats, on the other hand, argue that Bush's economic plan has left wages flat and gas and health care costs high. They also blame Republicans for a failed attempt to raise the minimum wage by insisting that it be coupled with cutting taxes on multimillion-dollar estates.
"Despite the president's rosy rhetoric and campaign slogans, the American people know the Bush economy doesn't work for them, as they've endured stagnating wages, skyrocketing health care costs and record-high gas prices," said Stacie Paxton, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.
There has been recent good news on the inflation front.
A surge in energy prices pushed the Consumer Price Index higher in July, but other prices were more restrained. That raised hopes on Wall Street that interest rates won't be rising. Also, wholesale prices were up just 0.1 percent in July and, excluding food and energy, actually fell by 0.3 percent.
Other economic reports give evidence that the economy is slowing.
The Federal Reserve reported that industrial production rose by 0.4 percent in July — just half the June gain, as manufacturing output slowed dramatically. And the Commerce Department said new home construction dropped by 2.5 percent in July, the fifth decline in the past six months.