President Bush said he is confident that Congress and the administration will be able to approve a stimulus package to jump-start the economy and calm fears of recession that have shaken financial markets worldwide.
"I believe we can find common ground to get something done that's big enough, effective enough so that an economy that is inherently strong gets a boost -- to make sure that this uncertainty doesn't translate into more economic woes for our workers and small business people," the president said.
Bush spoke on the same day that the Federal Reserve Board announced that it cut a key interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point. His statement came as he commenced a White House meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans about the economy and other issues, including his recent trip to the Middle East.
Bush invited the bipartisan congressional leadership to discuss an emergency rescue package centered on tax rebates and business tax cuts but also likely to include increases in unemployment benefits and food stamps. "I've got reasonable expectations about how fast something can happen," he said. "But I'm also optimistic something will happen."
Speaking in the Cabinet Room packed with lawmakers and advisers, Bush said both the administration and Congress want to find a solution quickly, but that's he knows that can be difficult with the sometimes tedious legislative process.
"Everybody wants to get something done quickly, but we want to make sure it gets done right," the president said. "And make sure that everybody's realistic about the timetable. Legislative bodies don't move necessarily in an orderly, quick way, and therefore these leaders are committed, and they want to get something done."
"When we say as soon as possible, that means obviously within the ability of the bodies to effectively do their jobs," Bush added.
Last week Bush offered the outline of a short-term economic boost, but the slumping of the global economic market since then has raised the question of whether he's willing to expand the package. Stocks plummeted on Wall Street despite the Federal Reserve's three-quarter percentage point cut in a key interest rate, lending a greater aura of urgency to the White House talks.
Discussing Bush's options earlier, press secretary Dana Perino told reporters: "I'm not going to close the door, but I'm not suggesting that anyone believes it has to be bigger" than the roughly $150 billion figure already discussed.
Later, Perino said that at this point the White House has not "seen higher numbers floated by members of Congress" and that Bush believes the growth package he has outlined is "the right amount."
The president last Friday put forward the broad outlines of a stimulus plan that would include tax cuts for individuals and businesses. Bush said any plan, to be effective, would need to represent roughly 1 percent of the gross domestic product, or about $140 billion to $150 billion.
On Wall Street, stocks plunged at the opening of trading Tuesday, propelling the Dow Jones industrials down about 400 points after the Fed's announcement of its rate cut failed to assuage nervous investors. U.S. markets joined stock exchanges around the globe that have fallen precipitously in recent days amid concerns that a downturn might spread around the world.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the administration's point man on the stimulus bill, discussed details with top lawmakers in both parties in advance of the meeting between Bush and leading lawmakers.
"I have been very encouraged by the way that both parties have come together, bipartisan support for moving quickly to do something that will make a difference this year in our economy that will be meaningful, that will be temporary and something that we can hopefully get done quickly," Paulson told reporters.
The sharp decline of markets in the United States and around the globe is tied in part to the perception that Bush's outlined stimulus package would not do enough to avert a recession.
Perino said the White House does not comment on daily fluctuations in the market. But she did say that people should have confidence in the underlying strength and long-term prospects of the U.S. economy.
Paulson told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier Tuesday that Congress and the administration need to agree quickly on a package of tax cuts. "Time is of the essence and the president stands ready to work on a bipartisan basis to enact economic growth legislation as soon as possible," he said.
The Fed's decision to slash the federal funds rate -- the interest that banks charge each other on overnight loans -- was the biggest single cut of its kind in recent memory. The Fed cut the rate to 3.5 percent from 4.25 percent -- a move that represented the most dramatic signal it could can send of its concern about a recession. It said "appreciable downside risks to growth remain" and held out the prospect of further rate cuts.
Any compromise stimulus package likely would involve tax rebates, business tax cuts and funding for a Democratic-led call for additional food stamp and employment aid. Paulson said he was optimistic the administration and Congress could "get this done long before winter turns to spring."
Bush has advocated a growth package of about $145 billion, centered on tax cuts for business and rebates for individual taxpayers. He did not announce details, but administration officials are focusing on rebates of $800 to $1,600 for individuals and couples and so-called bonus depreciation to allow companies to deduct 50 percent of business investments made this year. He also supports help for small businesses with more generous write-offs on equipment purchases.
On Capitol Hill, talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, have focused on smaller tax rebates of perhaps $500 for individuals, bonus depreciation and small business expensing, as well as Democrats' call for boosts in unemployment benefits, food stamp payments and the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.
The rush to produce an economic stimulus bill comes as recent data on the economy is increasingly negative and as the issue has become a top priority with voters.