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Bush says rebates may be working

President Bush is considering new measures to help stimulate the battered economy, the White House said Friday as unemployment and oil prices soared and Wall Street sank.

White House counselor Ed Gillespie said Bush's advisers are constantly looking at options for new economic proposals.

“There's a short window for the president here when it comes to new policy. We understand that,” Gillespie said. “So I guess what I'm saying is, don't rule it out.”

Gillespie spoke before a Bush speech on the economy, timed around the ceremonial swearing-in of the president's new housing secretary, Steven Preston. In his remarks, Bush stuck to promoting his existing economic policies.

The government's $168 billion stimulus package, passed in February, began getting tax rebate checks to people last month and helped to energize shoppers. “We're beginning to see signs that the stimulus may be working,” Bush said at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But analysts believe consumers still are anxious, and a weakening job market could make people feel less inclined to spend. This, and talk that the economy already has fallen into its first recession since 2001, has led to questions about whether a second stimulus might be warranted.

The first one provided rebate checks for individuals and extra tax breaks for businesses. The White House has insisted it needed to wait to see the full effects of the existing stimulus before discussing any new steps.

The president did not unveil any new proposals during his speech, nor even hint whether he believes any are necessary.

Instead, he called on the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass long-sought existing priorities of his, such as making tax cuts passed during his presidency permanent and allowing expanded oil exploration in the United States.

“Unfortunately, these policies are being blocked by the Democratic Congress,” he said. “I call on the congressional leaders to put partisanship aside and work with me to enact these important issues for the American people.”

Earlier Friday, a government report showed that the nation's unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent last month, the biggest monthly rise since 1986 and another sign of a deeply troubled economy. Dwindling job opportunities are combined with continuing hardship in the housing, credit and financial sectors.

Bush noted that a surge of young new entrants to the job market contributed to the worse-than-expected numbers. But, he said, “it's clearly a sign that is consistent with slow economic growth.”

“This is a time of turbulence in the housing market and slow growth for our overall economy,” the president said.

It was a day of turmoil on Wall Street, as well. The Dow Jones industrials fell nearly 400 points after oil prices shot up by more than $11 a barrel and neared $140 a barrel – and wiped out investors' recent optimism about the economy in the process.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush was very concerned about high energy prices and the need to increase domestic oil exploration and production. She said there was no imminent announcement of any new economic stimulus.

Preston, formerly the head of the Small Business Administration, is to be Bush's point man on the slumping housing market and subprime lending crisis. He is likely to be the administration's lead negotiator as Congress and the White House work on legislation to allow the Federal Housing Administration to insure up to $300 billion in refinanced mortgages, including many in which the mortgages exceed the value of their homes.