Administration Considers Economic Boost, Expansion of Aid for At-Risk Borrowers

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President Bush said Tuesday that he is watching very carefully to see if the struggling U.S. economy needs a short-term boost from the federal government.

"We're listening to different ideas about what may or may not need to happen," he said. "We'll work through this. We'll work through this period of time."

He wouldn't comment on any specific ideas he is considering, such as tax cuts aimed at lessening the chance of a recession. "We'll look at all different options."

On Monday, Bush talked about recent indicators that have been "increasingly mixed," a new recognition of the challenges now facing the economy, primarily resulting from a severe housing crisis. Previous Bush statements have paid attention to the financial fears of many American families and the effects of the housing slump, but focused on what he calls the strong fundamentals underpinning the economy.

"It's going to take awhile to work through the downturn," he said Tuesday of the housing crisis. He spoke in response to a question, during a Rose Garden event on Iraq.

Bush regards his State of the Union address to Congress at the end of the month and the release of his new budget proposal shortly after as a sort of deadline for making the call about whether to propose a stimulus package. Aides say he wants to analyze more economic data before making a final decision.

On Friday, the government reported that hiring practically stalled in December, driving the nation's unemployment rate up to a two-year high of 5 percent. With such reports fanning fears of a recession and more Americans growing anxious, Bush has taken to talking about the economy often.

As before, he spoke on Tuesday of his confidence in the American economic system and the ability of it -- and his administration -- to weather even severe shocks.

"I'm optimistic, as I've seen this economy, you know, go through periods of uncertainty," the president said. "I like the fundamentals, they look strong, but there are new signals that should cause concern. And one of the signals is the fact that the housing market is soft."

Earlier Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the administration was exploring what would be a significant expansion of the program to help at-risk mortgage holders.

Paulson, in an interview on CNBC, said the administration was involved in discussions with the mortgage industry to expand a current program to freeze adjustable rate mortgages for five years to include borrowers of loans at prime rates. Currently, the rate freeze only covers a much smaller segment of adjustable rate loans, those made to subprime borrowers. Those are borrowers with weak credit histories.

Paulson did not provide any details on when this expansion might go forward.

On Monday, Paulson had said in a speech in New York that the current housing correction was "inevitable and necessary" following five years of an unsustainable boom which saw sales and home prices hit record levels.