President Bush said Tuesday the stimulus package Congress passed in February is just beginning to kick in and will make a "positive contribution" to the economy.

A report out Tuesday puts consumer confidence at its lowest level in almost 16 years. Soaring gas prices and gloomy job prospects were chiefly to blame for the sinking consumer mood. A separate index showed U.S. home prices dropped at the sharpest rate in two decades during the first quarter of 2008, another sign of the deep housing slump.

But Bush said the tax refunds Americans began receiving last month will help.

"The stimulus package that we passed in Congress is just beginning to kick in, and it's going to make a positive contribution to economic growth," Bush said.

He also prodded Congress again to make his first-term tax cuts permanent to provide a level of certainty to businesses and families. Congress should declare "once and for all" that it is going to extend the cuts, he said.

Bush spoke at Silverado Cable Co., which makes electrical wiring for airplanes and other industrial uses. The event was a quick stop in between two fundraisers, including a private event for Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.

The economy is plodding along with near flat-line growth. Consumers are taking a direct hit at the gas pump, and the grocery store while the housing market continues to falter.

Bush expects greater signs of life soon, thanks to the economic stimulus package of tax rebates for individuals and tax breaks for businesses. Experts say the impact is debatable.

The tax rebates began hitting bank accounts in late April. They provide up to $600 for an individual and $1,200 for married couples, based on income levels. In addition, people are entitled to $300 for eligible children younger than 17.

The IRS expects to ship out 130 million refunds by the end of June. The tax breaks aim to encourage businesses to invest in equipment, which in turns add life to the economy.

Earlier, in the Albuquerque area, Bush touched down long enough to lead a private fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Darren White, a local sheriff. New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, long held by Republicans, is considered a toss-up.

The incumbent, Rep. Heather Wilson, passed up a re-election bid to run for the Senate. Bush put his weight behind White, who is seeking his party's nomination on June 3. The event for White also raised money for other Republican candidates in the state.

Bush is on a three-day swing through five states, and McCain is the main beneficiary. The president is having three fundraisers for the senator — all closed to the news media. Those events will also put cash in the bank account of the national Republican Party.

Bush is also giving the commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement in Colorado on Wednesday. By holding official events intermingled with his party fundraising, Bush dramatically reduces the cost of presidential travel that's charged to the campaigns of McCain and other candidates. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab.