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Bush: We're in a slowdown

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  • "No question, we're in a slowdown," Bush says
  • President calls on Congress to pass terrorist surveillance bill
  • Increased troop presence in Iraq has decreased violence, he says
  • Bush praises House committee for passing AIDS bill
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush acknowledged Thursday that the economy has slowed down but said the United States is not headed toward a recession.

"No question, we're in a slowdown," the president told reporters in a White House news conference.

"That's why we acted strongly with over $150 billion worth of pro-growth economic incentives," he added, referring to the $170 billion economic stimulus bill he signed into law more than two weeks ago.

"And now it's time to determine whether or not this pro-growth package will actually work."

The government hopes the measure, which will send most Americans tax rebate checks by June, will either prevent a recession or make one relatively brief.

There have been reports in recent weeks indicating that the U.S. economy is near a recession or may already be in one.

The package also includes tax breaks for equipment purchases by businesses, as well as payments to disabled veterans and some senior citizens. It will pay $600 to most individual taxpayers and $1,200 to married taxpayers filing joint returns if they are below income caps of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples. There is also a $300-per-child tax credit.

Economists generally agree that the economy should see a boost from the rebate checks. But most say that the full impact will be less than the total value of the stimulus package.

Bush also urged House leadership to pass legislation that would provide legal immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the intelligence community eavesdrop on suspected terrorists after the September 11 attacks. Video Watch Bush urge Congress to move ahead with FISA »

"The law expired; the threat to America didn't expire," Bush said in reiterating a push to permanently update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that regulates wiretapping.

A temporary extension of the law expired February 16, days after the Senate had passed a more permanent version. That bill included a provision that would provide retroactive immunity to any telecommunications companies that helped the intelligence community eavesdrop on suspected terrorists.

The House version did not include that immunity, and it failed to pass another 21-day extension.

The Bush administration says the expiration of the temporary measure has left the United States vulnerable to terrorists, but Democrats say that provisions remain in effect allowing the government to institute wiretaps as long as they get FISA court approval within 72 hours.

Bush has often said that the law is outdated and needs to be changed to account for modern technology.

Telephone and Internet companies face as many as 40 lawsuits related to their compliance with government requests to tap into that traffic.

Bush argued Thursday that allowing the lawsuits to proceed would make public information that "would give al Qaeda and others a road map as to how to avoid the surveillance."

"Without the cooperation of the private sector, we cannot protect our country from terrorist attacks," he said.

The president also expressed disapproval that the Senate debated this week a bill that would would cut off funding for combat operations in Iraq 120 days after its enactment.

"Congressional leaders are still sounding the same old call for withdrawal. I guess you could say that when it comes to pushing for withdrawal, their strategy is to stay the course," he said. Video Watch Bush describe his strategy in Iraq »

"It seems that no matter what happens in Iraq, opponents of the war have one answer: retreat."

Bush credited the "surge," last year's increase in American troops in Iraq, with decreasing violence there. The president ordered nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to help pacify Baghdad and the surrounding provinces.

Bush said Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will make a recommendation this spring as to what troop levels there should be.

"Since the surge began, high-profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down, and our own casualties are down," he said.

When asked whether Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's recent comments about Iraq were naive, the president was quick to shoot down the question.

"I believe Sen. Obama better stay focused on his campaign with Sen. (Hillary) Clinton, neither of whom has secured their party's nomination yet," he said, adding that the Republican nomination has not been decided either.

Bush also asked lawmakers to pass a bill, primarily aimed at African nations, called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The president, who just returned from a five-day, six-nation tour of Africa, said he was pleased that a House committee had passed a bill reauthorizing the plan.

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"Obviously, the hope is now the House will act quickly and send the bill reauthorizing PEPFAR to the Senate. And I'd like to sign it into law as quickly as possible."

Vietnam, Guyana and Haiti also benefit from the program. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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