The Persian Gulf crisis and the prospect of rising oil prices should not deter Congress and the administration from reducing the size of the federal budget deficit, President Bush said yesterday, echoing the views of congressional leaders.

"I still think it's absolutely essential to get a budget agreement," the president said at a press conference that dealt mainly with the Gulf crisis.

At the same time, Bush again signaled that he might renew partisan attacks on Democrats for the budget stalemate. In reference to an earlier truce in political jousting over the budget talks, Bush said, "I don't feel bound by an agreement that I've told the congressional leaders is no longer in effect." He added, "I feel like a liberated human being now."

Bush's comments came amid speculation among some economists and business leaders that the prospect of a recession should make lawmakers more cautious about deep cuts in government spending this year.

But in a speech before the National Press Club yesterday, Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady also called for budget cuts, declaring "the problems facing the U.S. can be better handled if we have the budget deficit under control."

Brady hinted that the Bush administration might favor a smaller deficit reduction in the first year of the five-year package that is being negotiated. "I'm not sure that the first year figure {for cuts} will come out to exactly $50 billion," Brady said in reference to the target set at the budget summit. But, he added, "We cannot be strong when the budget deficit is where it is."

With the conflict in the Persian Gulf making business leaders increasingly skittish about the economic outlook, attention focused yesterday on the health of the economy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the economy is sliding into a recession and it accused the Federal Reserve Board of being the chief culprit. But a report by the Federal Reserve Board said there is "continued economic growth," even though "the pace was slow or had slackened recently."

The Fed's so-called "beige book," a summary of economic activity prepared for use by the central bank's main policy-making body at its next open market committee meeting, scheduled for Aug. 21, surveyed the central bank's regional offices. In breaking down the economy's performance, the central bank's report said that retail sales are "a little better than a year ago or soft, with weaker-than-expected demand for big ticket items."

The Federal Reserve added that manufacturing activity is flat, though in some regions there was growth in tradable good.

The beige book noted that real estate construction and sales and housing activity in general remained below that of 1989 as the inventory of unsold housing stock remained high.

The Chamber of Commerce said, however, that the economy will stall in the third quarter of this year and slide into negative growth rates in the final quarter of 1990 and first quarter of 1991, according to Richard Rahn, vice president and chief economist of the chamber.

While the Persian Gulf crisis and the prospect of rising oil prices could hurt the economy, Rahn put most of the blame for the slowdown on the Federal Reserve. "The impending recession is not the result of Iraqi adventurism in the Middle East," Rahn said. "It is due to bad economic policy by the U.S. government. The Federal Reserve has left the economy no margin of error. ... The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait only makes a bad situation worse."

Brady also called for lower interest rates yesterday. Unlike Rahn, Brady asserted that the economy is continuing to grow, albeit at a slow rate. Brady said that "economic growth in this country is still going up. Not as fast as we would want, but it is still going up."

While Brady admitted that an increase in the price of oil would "impose additional hardship," he said the Bush administration is "not contemplating a recession."