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President George W. Bush, seeking to bolster faith in the economy amid fears of a recession, acknowledged on Friday the United States was going through hard times but said growth would resume over the long run because economic fundamentals were sound.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton countered that much of the country was already in a recession.
With oil prices at record highs, the mortgage market on the verge of meltdown and the specter of recession looming, Bush has been scrambling to halt the slide in the economy.
"In the long run I am confident that our economy will continue to grow because the foundation is solid," Bush told about 500 people at the nonpartisan Economic Club of New York, a group of top business executives, bankers and economists.
Bush's trip to New York came amid reports of further slippage in consumer confidence and word that the Federal Reserve and JPMorgan Chase had agreed to provide emergency funding to Bear Stearns because of a credit crunch at the major US investment bank.
Campaigning in Pennsylvania, which holds the next primary contest on April 22, Clinton renewed her attack on oil company profits and accused Sen. Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, of supporting tax breaks for oil companies.
Speaking at a campaign rally for about 2,000 supporters in Pittsburgh, Clinton said both Obama and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain had voted for a bill to cut oil company taxes.
"They voted yes to more giveaways to the oil companies," she said in a 40-minute speech.
Citing Exxon Mobil Corp's latest annual profit of $40 billion, Clinton said that as president, she would require oil companies to invest in alternative forms of energy or else be subject to a windfall profits tax.
Development of alternative energy sources and the promotion of energy independence could generate 5 million new jobs in the next 10 years, she added.
Earlier on Friday, Clinton visited a Pittsburgh gas station to promote her plan to fight the high energy costs she said are hurting the economy.
"There are many places in our country, and there are many families that are already in recession," Clinton said. "I believe we are on a course that is going to worsen that economic stress."
As conditions have gotten worse, the economy has surpassed the Iraq war as the top concern of voters who will pick Bush's successor in November.
That could bode ill for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, who has made national security the centerpiece of his candidacy and once said the economy was not his strong suit.
McCain, who has visited Iraq seven times, plans a trip to the Middle East and Europe next week.
Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady who would be the first woman president, will continue her battle for the Democratic nomination with Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
In an interview with the cable channel CNBC, Bush said he trusted McCain to maintain his tax-cutting legacy.
"Not only do I think he will be good (on) tax cuts, I know he'll be a good, sound, you know, fiscal watchdog," Bush said, according to a transcript.
At a town hall meeting in a Philadelphia suburb, McCain said US economic fundamentals remain strong despite the housing crisis, and said he would soon unveil more proposals to help the economy.
"We will come forward in the days and weeks ahead with more and stronger proposals to try to fix this economy and I'm sure that we can," the Arizona senator said. (Reuters)
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