By DEB RIECHMANN
President Bush marked Labor Day on Monday by promising to help keep U.S. workers competitive in global markets and reduce U.S reliance on foreign oil so it doesn’t choke U.S. economic expansion.
"Dependence on foreign oil jeopardizes our capacity to grow," Bush said in a speech focused on the U.S. economy — a key issue in November elections that will determine whether the GOP retains control of the House and Senate.
Democrats contend the middle class isn’t enjoying the benefits of recent U.S. economic gains. They say sluggish median earnings show paychecks have failed to keep pace with inflation, and they note rising health care and energy costs.
Average prices at the gas pump have eased over the past month from more than $3 for a gallon for unleaded regular gasoline to $2.79. That has given Americans some relief, but Bush warned against continued reliance on oil-producing countries where the United States is unpopular.
"The problem is we get oil from some parts of the world and they simply don’t like us," Bush said. "And so the more dependent we are on that type of energy, the less likely it will be that we are able to compete, and so people have good, high-paying jobs."
Bush said he is working to advance technologies so batteries can power automobiles on short trips and ethanol can replace gasoline. He also renewed his support for nuclear energy.
The president gave his 11-minute holiday address at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, which offers vocational training to members of the Seafarers International Union.
Technology has allowed the union to be more productive, Bush said, and "technology is going to enable us to become less dependent on oil."
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Bush didn’t mention one proposal aimed at easing U.S. addiction to foreign oil: Upgrading fuel economy standards from levels set in 1975 to reflect nearly 30 years of new technologies.
"President Bush’s willful disregard of imposing tough new fuel economy standards is hobbling our national security, our economy and our environment," Markey said. "And proposing nuclear power as an answer to cars, SUVs and trucks burning oil shows that the president isn’t serious about our dangerous Middle East oil dependence."
Bush also urged Congress to make permanent a host of tax cuts. And he thanked America’s fighting men and women for their sacrifices and said, "They may hear all the political discourse going on, but the people of this country — the people of the United States of America — stand squarely behind the men and women who wear our uniform."
Before his outdoor remarks, Bush spent time "steering" a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in a simulation room where he was surrounded by video screens offering him a panoramic view of the harbor in Baltimore and gurgling sounds of water.
"Just make sure I don’t run into the wall," he joked.
Later in the day, Bush spent a little more than an hour biking on the grounds of a Secret Service training facility in Beltsville, Md.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press