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Bush, in impromptu press conference, links tax cuts to gasoline prices

President Bush
President Bush takes questions from reporters Friday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush pushed Congress on Friday afternoon to expedite a tax relief package and get a bill to his desk by Memorial Day, in time to provide extra money to Americans in advance of an anticipated summer energy crunch.

Bush, speaking to reporters in a hastily called news conference, said immediate tax relief, combined with a longer-range effort to boost domestic refining capacity, would eventually take the sting out of high gasoline and electricity prices.

Approval this week by both the House and Senate of a final congressional 2002 budget resolution should open the door for quick action on tax cuts, Bush said.

"I want to say how pleased I am that a budget has been agreed upon," Bush said Friday afternoon in the White House briefing room. "Now is the time for Congress to act quickly. It is time for the Congress to pass real, meaningful tax reform, and I urge them to do so before Memorial Day."

Memorial Day falls this year in Monday, May 28 -- just 15 days from now.

"It will be good for the economy, and will be a real way to deal with high energy prices. I am confident they can get it done before Memorial Day," he said.

The House has already passed a series of tax relief measures, including bills to restructure the tax code's rate system, and roll back the estate tax and so-called "marriage penalty."

The Senate Finance Committee was expected to unveil its own tax bill late on Friday afternoon. That bill will have to be approved by the panel before it hits the Senate floor, and if successful in the full Senate, will have to be reconciled with the various House bills.

Bush stuck to his message through the 30-minute news availability, telling reporters that he promised tax relief through the 2000 presidential campaign, and he has more recently promised to provide struggling consumers with relief from high energy costs.

Asked if he worried that prices were rising at the same time as oil company profits, Bush replied:

"I worry about the fact that hard-working people are paying high prices at the pump," he said. "The Congress needs to cut taxes as quickly as possible."

As for a longer range strategy to drive prices down, Bush said energy producers should be given greater rein to construct refining facilities. The OPEC oil cartel can produce as much crude as it wants, he insisted, but if that crude cannot be refined into gasoline and other products here in the United States, prices will not be affected.

"The price of crude oil has got something to do with the price of gas, but not nearly as much as we haven't built a refinery in years," Bush said. "We need more refining capacity."

The road to more refining capacity, Bush added, may include a government analyzation "of all the regulations that discourage development." He added later that an energy plan expected to be released next week may include incentives for vehicle manufacturers to develop and produce more hybrid vehicles.

"This is a situation that is going to require some long term planning to have a stable future," the president said. "This is a situation that has been developing over the years, and is going to take a while to correct."

Much of the remainder of Bush's news conference centered in the delay of the execution of admitted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced just an hour prior to Bush's appearance that he would delay McVeigh's execution until June 11, so thousands of newly discovered FBI documents covering the case could be examined.

Bush said he agreed with Ashcroft's decision.

The president also spoke of his meeting Friday with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who visited the White House on Friday morning as Bush released some $200 million in "seed money" for a global fund to combat HIV and AIDS.

Bush said he spoke with Annan about the world body's ouster of the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Commission earlier this week.

Members voted the U.S. out, and provided Sudan with a seat on the panel. Sudan has been roundly criticized by the United States and other nations for a variety of human rights abuses.

"I told him it hard for me to envision a human rights commission with the United States off and Sudan on," Bush said. "That sent an awfully strange signal to the world, it seems like to me."



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