Donald Lambro

Yet all of the other numbers by which we assess our economic health paint a much brighter picture than the voters are seeing: 5.5 million new jobs created since August 2003, producing a jobless rate of 4.8 percent (which economists consider full employment).

More people working and faster than expected growth has produced a surge in federal tax revenues that has slashed the federal budget deficit. The fed's revenues shot up last year by 14.5 percent, the biggest rise in 24 years. Despite all those gloom and doom forecasts by tax cut critics who said revenues would fall and the deficit would rise, the opposite is happening. The deficit is shrinking faster than was forecast. Tax revenues this year are expected to expand by 11.4 percent.

As good as all of these numbers are, however, they are being trumped by higher gasoline and food prices, and increased health insurance costs that show up directly in weekly employee paycheck deductions.

No doubt many Americans are being stretched economically and that is driving Bush's economic scores down. News reports of job layoffs among hard-hit sectors like the U.S. automobile industry, while contained to a few auto-producing states, have had a rippling effect throughout the economy, and that has added to an increasingly negative economic perceptions that the GDP numbers are not going to dispel.

We are not going to see significant declines in oil prices anytime soon, (though they dropped to three-month lows last week), unless we embark on a policy of increased offshore exploration and drilling and opening up the vast reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Bush and the Republicans have long been proposing.

But that oil independence policy has been effectively blocked by liberal Democrats whose anti-drilling posture is in part to blame for the higher oil prices we are seeing now in global markets and at the pump. One important and optimistic sign of the economy's overall health and staying power is the stock market's remarkable stability in all of this. Last week the Dow was approaching 11,400 in a late summer rally, a sign of confidence in the economy's long-term outlook.

There are good reasons for all Americans to be just as confident and bullish about the economy whose fundamentals remain as strong as ever. Bush and the Republicans and the tax cuts they enacted which fueled the recovery had a lot to do with this.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.