WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush publicly acknowledged for the first time Friday that the U.S. economy is in a recession and worried aloud that Detroit's Big Three automakers may not all survive their mounting troubles.
Four days after the long-suspected existence of a recession was made official, Bush used the word himself.
"Our economy is in a recession," Bush said flatly, speaking to reporters on the South Lawn only hours after the release of a government report showing the biggest month of job losses in 34 years. "This is in large part because of severe problems in our housing, credit and financial markets, which have resulted in significant job losses."
While repeatedly listing the serious problems in the economy, the White House has refused to embrace the actual term until Monday, when a panel for the National Bureau of Economic Research said the recession began last December and is ongoing.
With automakers, particularly General Motors, in fear of bankruptcy, they are seeking from Washington a huge cash infusion of up to $34 billion, beyond an existing $25 billion loan program. Lawmakers are considering the idea, but there is uncertainty about the level of support on Capitol Hill for that plan.
Bush displayed skepticism about the wisdom of new aid to companies that still need to make "hard choices on all aspects of their business." So while urging lawmakers to act next week to help the battered industry, Bush urged a Congress controlled by opposition Democrats to follow his approach.
The president supports adjusting the $25 billion loan program, so that the money would be available more quickly and for more urgent needs than its original long-term purpose of helping to retool factories to produce more energy-efficient cars.
"I am concerned about the viability of the automobile companies," he told reporters on the South Lawn. "I am concerned about those who work for the automobile companies and their families. And likewise, I am concerned about taxpayer money being provided to these companies that may not survive."
With only 46 days left in office, Bush declared: "It's important to make sure that taxpayers' money be paid back if any is given to the companies."
The president spoke not long after the release of a government report showing the biggest month of job losses in 34 years. Reacting to the jobs report for November, which also showed a huge jump in the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent, Bush expressed deep concern for Americans who have lost jobs, but also said there are some encouraging signs about the credit markets. "There is still more work to do," he said. "My administration is committed to ensuring that our economy succeeds."
At 12 months, the current recession is already the longest since a severe 16-month slump in 1981-82. Many economists say this downturn will ultimately set a new record for the post-World War II period.
During Bush's eight years in office, the United States has fallen into two recessions. The first one started in March 2001 and ended in November of that year.