NEW YORK - (AP) - President Barack Obama insisted Friday that the U.S. economy is showing improvement from the deepest recession in decades but conceded the "progress has been painfully slow." He said he understands that many voters in November's elections may blame the weak recovery on him.
"For all the progress we've made, we're not there yet. And thatmeans people are frustrated and why people are angry," he said atthe White House in his first formal news conference since May."Because I am president, and the Democrats have control the Houseand Senate, it's understandable that people are saying, 'What haveyou done?"'
Obama repeated his insistence that Republicans drop stallingtactics on a bill to help small businesses when Congress returnsnext week from its summer recess.
Facing the possibility of a GOP blowout in November, Obamainsisted again that Bush-era tax cuts be extended for individualsearning less than $200,000 a year and joint filers earning under$250,000. All the tax cuts are due to expire at the end of thisyear unless Congress acts.
Obama said Congress shouldn't delay extending the middle-classtax cuts any longer.
"Why hold it up? Why hold the middle class hostage," he said.
He said extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans "is abad idea."
Obama over the past week has outlined a trio of job-creationideas designed to prod the economy: $50 billion for roads, raillines and other infrastructure spending, a permanent research anddevelopment credit and upfront 100 percent business write-offsthrough 2012.
With polls suggesting that voters have decided - rightly orwrongly - that his $814 billion stimulus plan last year was lessthan a success, the White House has been steering clear ofportraying these new items as another stimulus.
Yet when he was asked directly whether the unpopularity of thefirst stimulus was why White House officials weren't using thatword this time, Obama said:
"I have no problem with people saying the president is tryingto stimulate growth and jobs. There's no doubt that everythingwe've been trying to do ... is designed to stimulate growth andjobs in the entire economy." He said he hoped Republicans had thesame goal.
Seeking to rally his struggling party, Obama cast Democrats aswarriors for the hard-pressed middle class and Republicans asprotectors of millionaires and special interests.
Asked how he had changed Washington, Obama said the dreadfuleconomy made it hard to demonstrate real progress.
"I think that's fair. I'm as frustrated as anybody by it,"Obama said.