MESA, Ariz. — President Bush, sounding upbeat as consumer confidence swooned, said Tuesday that the government's effort to stimulate the economy is just starting to kick in.
"It's going to make a positive contribution to economic growth," Bush declared, referring to a package of rebate checks for families and tax breaks for business. The most tangible part of the deal _ checks in people's mailboxes _ began arriving this month.
Bush's reassurance came as a new report put consumer confidence at its lowest level in almost 16 years. Soaring gas prices and gloomy job prospects were largely to blame.
Meanwhile, a separate index released Tuesday showed U.S. home prices dropped at the sharpest rate in two decades during the first quarter of 2008. The slump in housing and a related credit crunch, which has resulted in multibillion-dollar losses at large financial institutions, have depressed the economy and raised worries about a possible recession.
The president chose a backdrop of the Silverado Cable Co., a 70-employee business that makes electrical wiring for airplanes and other industrial uses. He trumpeted the new tax breaks that have encourage companies like Silverado to invest in new equipment.
And Bush brought up a familiar call, prodding Congress to extend his first-term tax cuts, which are due to expire in 2010. The Democratic-led Congress has shown little interest.
"We have times of economic uncertainty right now," Bush said after taking a quick tour of the company's plant. "And what creates more uncertainty for owners of businesses like these is whether or not their taxes are going to go up. And Congress ought to just declare once and for all we're going to make the tax cuts we passed permanent."
The event was a quick stop in between two fundraisers, including a private event for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.
The economy is plodding along with near flat-line growth. Consumers are taking a direct hit at the gas pump, and the grocery store while the housing market continues to falter.
The new tax rebates provide up to $600 for an individual and $1,200 for married couples, based on income levels. In addition, people are entitled to $300 for eligible children younger than 17.
The IRS expects to ship out 130 million refunds by the end of June.
Earlier, in the Albuquerque area, Bush touched down long enough to lead a private fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Darren White, a local sheriff. New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, long held by Republicans, is considered a toss-up.
The incumbent, Rep. Heather Wilson, passed up a re-election bid to run for the Senate. Bush put his weight behind White, who is seeking his party's nomination on June 3. The event raised $317,000 for White and other Republican candidates in the state.
Bush is on a three-day swing through five states, and McCain is the main beneficiary. The president is having three fundraisers for the senator _ all closed to the news media. Those events will also put cash in the bank account of the national Republican Party.
Bush is also giving the commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement in Colorado on Wednesday. By holding official events intermingled with his party fundraising, Bush dramatically reduces the cost of presidential travel that's charged to the campaigns of McCain and other candidates. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab.