Bush: Attitudes about economy improving

ALEXANDRIA, La. "I have heard that people's attitudes are beginning to change from a period of intense concerns -- I would call it near panic -- to being more relaxed," Bush told reporters after a closed meeting with business leaders at the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce.

He said people are starting to see the effects of freed-up credit, while warning, "We've got a long way to go."

Back in Washington, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Budget Committee that the time was ripe for a second government stimulus package.

"With the economy likely to be weak for several quarters, and with some risk of a protracted slowdown, consideration of a fiscal package by the Congress at this juncture seems appropriate," Bernanke said.

Pressed for how large such a stimulus package should be, Bernanke demurred, saying that was up to Congress. But he said it should be "significant."

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the president's position on the possibility of a second stimulus remained unchanged. She reiterated concern with recent Democratic proposals that the administration does not believe would energize the economy.

"We've had an open mind about it, but what we are focused on right now is the urgent need to get this rescue package implemented," Perino said about the $700 billion government rescue program for the financial system that Congress passed Oct. 3.

Perino said Bush's endorsement of any kind of second stimulus would depend on the details of legislation drafted by Congress.

"We'd like to see the details of what would be proposed, because there are several programs that have been recommended that are coming in a cloak of being stimulative, and we don't think that those would actually stimulate the economy," Perino said. "So anything that we would do, we would have to take a careful look at."

Earlier this year, Congress enacted a $168 billion stimulus package that included tax rebates for people and tax breaks for businesses. The rebate checks of up to $600 per person helped to lift economic growth in the spring.

However, consumers cut back sharply as rising unemployment, harder-to-get credit, shrinking paychecks and falling home values made people much more cautious. In turn, businesses -- worried about a drop in consumer spending -- also have retrenched.

Bush is on a nearly daily campaign to remind the nation that his government is working to fix the financial crisis. As people fret about their rising bills and plummeting retirement savings, Bush is urging patience. He says it will take time for credit to flow freely again.

He reiterated why a free-market advocate like himself would support massive government intervention. "The answer is because I was deeply concerned about a financial crisis becoming so profound, so acute that it hurt the people, small business owners here" in Alexandria and other local communities.

Bush said community banks such as the one in central Louisiana are strong, and they should not be lumped in with the giant financial institutions that have gone under.

In the midst of a frantic election season, Bush has tried to retain a sense of in-charge leadership during the crisis. He has now spoken about the economic meltdown on 28 of the last 33 days, from formal speeches to radio addresses to the off-the-cuff comments like Monday's.

Bush also plans to host a high-profile international summit on how to fix the world financial system before year's end. The date and site of that have meeting have not been set.

Yet confidence in the volatile financial markets remains shaky. All the economy's problems are feeding off each other, creating a cycle that Washington's leaders -- including a president in the waning days of his second term -- are finding difficult to break.

The share of people who believe the United States is moving in the right direction has plunged in just a few weeks, from 28 percent in September to 15 percent in October, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll of likely voters that was released Monday.

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