The mixed signals reflect disagreement within the administration over economic policy, with some officials pushing for tax cuts and others contending that the economy is recovering from the recession on its own.
Yesterday, Vice President Quayle predicted that economic statistics due out next week would show the economy getting better, and he urged Americans to go out and buy new automobiles and other goods.
Said Fitzwater: "The country is obviously concerned about coming out of the recession. So are we. We do believe that we are in a period of recovery, but it is slower than hoped for."
But on Capitol Hill, the clamor is growing for tax breaks for the middle class to spur consumer spending and boost economic growth.
Republicans and Democrats have suggested various tax-relief packages, but there is no consensus on the details or timing of a bill. With Congress scheduled to adjourn for the year by Thanksgiving, it appears unlikely legislation could be enacted this year.
A centerpiece of the GOP plans is a reduction in the tax rate on capital
gains, while Democrats are more likely to suggest tax breaks for middle-class
families with children and tax increases for the rich.
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D., Texas) triggered a flurry of interest in tax cuts with a proposal Sunday for a $300-per-child tax credit to families and a reinstatement of tax-deductible individual retirement accounts.
Amid persistent charges that his economic policies favor the rich, Bush's approval rating dropped to 53 percent in the latest Gallup Poll, the lowest level since his first month in office.
The administration also faces the risk that Congress would finance tax breaks by cutting military spending - something Bush has thus far resisted. But doing nothing poses another set of dangers for Bush.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday showed increased unhappiness with Bush's performance, particularly on economic matters. Forty- seven percent of respondents were inclined to vote for Bush, compared with 37 percent who indicated they would vote for a Democrat. That contrasts to the 68-to-20-percent lead Bush enjoyed in March.
The poll found that 60 percent disapproved of Bush's handling of the economy. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.