WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Friday he was "enthusiastic" about enacting a tax cut for the middle class, but he would not sign such a bill unless it helps the economy and is paid for as required by the 1990 budget agreement.
In his first statement outlining his position on the "tax-cut fever" that took hold of Congress last week, the President expressed "concern" about the sluggish recovery that he said was fueling an eleventh-hour rush to enact tax cuts this year.
"When the economic numbers come in mixed, people get concerned. I get concerned," he said. Nevertheless, he rejected suggestions that the economy would fall back into a "double-dip" recession. "I don't want to buy into that," even though "the economy is not as good as I'd like to see it."
Mr. Bush said he would consider any "new combination" of tax proposals Congress proposes to prop up the economy, as long as they promote "real growth" and do not "bust the budget agreement."
While Mr. Bush showed willingness to work with Congress on a stimulative tax-cut package in the coming weeks, his assertion that any bill must comply strictly with the agreement ruled out some plans being floated by Senate Democrats.
Three of those plans would require a major change in the agreement that would allow them to offset the revenues lost from middle-income or Social Security tax cuts with further deep cuts in defense spending. The President did not comment on any of the specific congressional plans.
Like Senate leaders, the President indicated any tax-cut plan could be enacted as part of an extended unemployment benefits package. He said Congress should consider passing the "six-point growth package" he proposed in his budget in February -- including a capital gainst tax cut -- in conjunction with a jobless bill that "doesn't add to the deficit."
Democrats have criticized both the growth package and the administration-backed jobless bill for only appearing to comply with the budget agreement, through the use of questionable one-time fees to pay for the jobless benefits, as well as optimistic estimates about the growth impact of the tax plan.
The President did not propose any new tax-cut or stimulus plans, despite recent meetings with advisers and congressional Republicans aimed at crafting such a plan. Some Democrats in Congress have said they are waiting for the President to initiate action on a new tax plan, but the President merely pointed to his earlier proposals, which all have been previously rejected in Congress.
The President took a strong stand against tampering with the budget agreement, despite major changes in the world since it was enacted, insisting that any revisions would only result in a runaway deficit.
"It's the only cap we have on outrageous congressional spending," he said, adding that "if we redo the agreement, you will see a windfall for spending programs."
The President conceded that the agreement's tight spending caps and other provisions have prevented Congress from addressing new problems -- such as the stagnant economy. But he insisted that it is necessary to "constrain an old problem" -- the deficit.