“We ought to see how the first one works,” Mr. Bush said. “Let it run its course. I’m an optimist.”
Debate about a second package of stimulus measures has percolated in Washington for weeks as unemployment has climbed and housing prices have fallen. But the prospect of another surge of government largess has taken on urgency in recent days amid worry about the health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee roughly half of the nation’s $12 trillion in mortgages.
On Tuesday, Nancy Pelosi of California, the speaker of the House, and other House Democrats met with economists to draft another stimulus package, saying it was likely to include spending for roads, bridges, schools and other public facilities, as well as aid for states confronting smaller tax revenues in the face of the housing downturn.
“This is a serious situation,” said Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration who attended the meeting, according to Bloomberg News. “We are in much more danger of responding inefficiently than in responding excessively.”
In an interview last week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said it would be “really hard” to get a package put together before the August recess, indicating that the issue was unlikely to gain momentum before the fall.
The White House and Congressional Republicans maintain that the best way to reinvigorate the economy is to adopt legislation to limit home foreclosures and expand domestic production of oil.
“Those will do more than any $300 you might send out to the taxpayers,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia.
Even as Mr. Bernanke, the Fed chairman, said it was too early to discuss another round of stimulus, he lent credence to the gathering sense that the economy appears to be deteriorating more deeply than policy makers had feared, as he testified before the Senate banking committee. Rising prices for food and gasoline have exacerbated tight credit and falling home prices to crimp household spending, he said.
Though the Fed has lowered interest rates aggressively in a bid to spur the economy, Mr. Bernanke said growth would remain “appreciably below its trend rate” for the rest of the year.
“The economy continues to face numerous difficulties,” he said.
New evidence of trouble emerged Tuesday when the government released data showing that retail sales grew by a scant 0.1 percent in June over the previous month — only one-fourth the increase economists had expected — in a potential sign that the effect of the rebate checks is already wearing off.
The Labor Department reported that prices paid by producers climbed 1.8 percent in June, and 9.2 percent over the last year — the biggest 12-month jump in more than a quarter-century.
“If we don’t have another stimulus package, that means serious hardship for a lot of people,” said Graciela Chichilnisky, an economist at Columbia University. “All the large industries will shrink operations and lay people off. A lot of people will lose jobs. This is not a typical downturn.”
But as Congress debates whether to send another rush of public money surging through the economy, the politics appear nettlesome — particularly in the thick of a presidential election campaign that may well be decided on economic ground.
Even if consensus eventually settles behind another round of stimulus, what specific measures it should include could be especially difficult to resolve. How to generate the swiftest bang for the buck is a subject of fierce debate among economists. In Washington, the subject trips deep partisan divisions — a fact that President Bush underscored at his news conference.
“If the Democratic leaders had their way in Congress, they would raise taxes, which would be the absolute wrong thing to do,” Mr. Bush said.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, last month proposed a $50 billion package of stimulus measures — $30 billion in fresh tax rebates, $10 billion in aid to states, and $10 billion to help families stave off the loss of homes to foreclosure.
The state money could be used to finance infrastructure projects to generate jobs, said Mr. Obama’s economic policy adviser, Jason Furman.
“We have a major collapse in the labor market, especially for men without high school degrees, a lot of whom have historically been employed in construction,” Mr. Furman said.