Bush huddles with economic advisers in Texas
Democrats fault administration policies
CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- With his top economic advisers by his side, President Bush on Wednesday offered an optimistic assessment of the economy, despite criticism from Democrats that he has not done enough to bring unemployment or the federal deficit down.
"This administration is optimistic about job creation," Bush told reporters, saying a series of tax cuts he has signed into law are having a "positive effect" on growth.
The president did not unveil any new policy initiatives and when asked about the possibility of more tax cuts, he suggested that was not on the table.
"We feel like the tax relief plans that we have passed will be robust enough to create the conditions necessary for economic growth, and therefore people will find a job," Bush said. "If we change our opinion, we will let you know."
The meeting with his top economic advisers comes as the 2004 race for the White House heats up with Democrats growing increasingly critical of Bush's stewardship of the economy.
Among those attending Wednesday's discussions were Treasury Secretary John Snow, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolten.
The nation's unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in July, and the annual budget deficit is on the rise, standing at about $455 billion this year, according to the administration.
"We believe it is more likely in the upcoming year that people are going to be able to find a job," Bush said, calling on Congress to hold the line on spending. He also urged lawmakers to send him an energy bill.
A poll from the Pew Research Center released late last week showed nearly six in 10 Americans, 57 percent, say the economy -- not terrorism -- is the most important presidential priority, up from 39 percent this time last year.
If the economy takes precedence over terrorism concerns, it could present a changing dynamic for Bush, who has benefited from high poll ratings from Americans happy with his leadership on national security since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Democratic presidential candidates are increasingly seizing on Americans' concerns about the economy by blaming unemployment and burgeoning deficit on the president's policies.
When the president travels the country, he routinely points to the terrorist attacks, corporate scandals and the war in Iraq as the reasons the economy has been slow to recover. He did so again Wednesday in his comments to reporters.
Bush said the tax cuts passed in 2001 and again this year helped save the economy, despite what his critics say.
"I'm more worried about families finding jobs and putting food on the table than I am about economic theory and economic numbers," he said.
Shortly after Bush's comments, Rep. Dick Gephardt, the Democratic presidential hopeful from Missouri, blasted Bush's "photo-op economics."
"President Bush's public relations cover-up for the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover isn't working. The American people see right through it," Gephardt said in a written statement.
This summer's presidential meeting on the economy was different from last summer's, when the president invited economists, chief executives and others outside government to nearby Waco for an all-day forum.
Wednesday's meeting was smaller and, with the exception of the briefing with reporters, private.
--CNN White House Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report.