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Bush: Congress Between Consumers And Cheaper Gas

Responding to Americans' anger over gas prices and the housing bust, President Bush is stepping up pressure on Congress to open up offshore oil exploration and work to restore confidence in the housing finance industry.

"This is a challenging time for families across our nation," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "I know many families are worried about rising prices at the pump and declining home values."

Bush recently lifted an executive ban on offshore oil drilling. He said it's Congress' turn to act.

"The only thing now standing between the American people and the vast oil resources of the Outer Continental Shelf is action from the United States Congress," he said.

With soaring gas prices, public opinion on energy issues is shifting in favor of a more permissive stance on drilling, even though resistance remains to the idea of opening the Atlantic and Pacific coasts or the eastern Gulf off Florida's beaches to oil and gas companies.

There is unrelenting GOP pressure to open up the Outer Continental Shelf to exploration, and Bush kept the pressure on during his radio broadcast. "The need for congressional action is urgent," he said. "The sooner Congress lifts the ban, the sooner we can get these resources from the ocean floor to the gas pump."

Democrats say they have a different plan to combat record-high gas prices, but that Bush and the Republicans in Congress are blocking it. They argue that oil companies should drill in about 68 million acres of federal land they have already leased for such use — a move the Democrats say would nearly double U.S. production.

They also want the president to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — a stockpile set aside for emergencies — and work with Democrats to crack down on Wall Street traders who are driving up oil prices by buying huge quantities of oil just to resell at a higher price.

"I don't know what President Bush thinks, but four-and-a-half dollar-a-gallon gas is an emergency for America's families," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Saturday in the Democratic radio address. "When was the last time the president filled his own tank?"

Bush also addressed the public's concerns about the housing industry, which has been in a slump for more than two years. The industry is struggling to cope with record levels of unsold new and existing homes — a glut being expanded by rising foreclosures, which are dumping even more houses on the market.

Buyers are reluctant to purchase a home with home prices still falling sharply and even those buyers who are ready to commit are having trouble qualifying for loans, as lenders tighten standards in response to soaring mortgage delinquencies.

Banks and other financial institutions are struggling to cope with billions of dollars of losses on bad mortgages.

The Bush administration and the Federal Reserve recently announced a support program for Fannie Mae and Freddie Macto try to stave off serious troubles for the two mortgage giants, which hold or guarantee more than $5 trillion of the nation's mortgages — nearly half the total.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is lobbying Congress for quick approval of a plan that would temporarily empower the government to extend unlimited lines of credit to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and to buy their stock, if needed, to bolster their reserves against losses. The companies' shares have plummeted because of fears about their financial stability.

"I urge Congress to swiftly enact this plan into law," Bush said.

All the housing and financial market turmoil has raised fears that the country could be pushed into a recession.

Bush worked to ally those fears, saying the U.S. economy has demonstrated resilience.

"Exports have continued to grow, productivity growth has remained strong, and while economic growth in the first quarter of this year was slower than we would have liked, it was growth, nonetheless," he said.

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