President Bush said Wednesday he was open to "across-the-board spending cuts" in the federal budget to help trim the deficit and still pay for hurricane assistance.

"We don't have to put our plans to cut the deficit on hold," Bush said in a speech to the Economic Club of Washington. "We have to reduce unnecessary spending in the budget."

Bush said he was working with congressional Republicans for "significant reductions in mandatory and discretionary spending." Some conservative lawmakers have been taken aback by the level of spending of the Bush administration, including recent projections of up to $200 billion in aid to help the Gulf Coast and New Orleans rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

"I encourage Congress to push the envelope when it comes to cutting spending," Bush said.

In a wide-ranging speech on the U.S. economy that touched on everything from Social Security to health care, Bush was relentlessly upbeat, saying his pro-growth policies have worked to keep the economy strong even with such challenges as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a recession and the bursting of the stock market bubble.

Bush said the federal deficit was $108 billion less than expected this year. He said his tax cuts have helped increase personal disposable income by nearly $1,900 per capita and pushed productivity growth to its fastest rate in nearly 40 years.

During the speech, Bush also announced that he had signed a law protecting such gun makers as Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. from negligence lawsuits brought by victims of shootings and local governments.

"I signed a bill today that said if you manufacture a legal product you shouldn't get sued for it," Bush said. The Senate adopted the bill 65-31 on July 29 and the House of Representatives voted 283-144 to pass it on Oct. 20.

The law shields gun manufacturers and dealers from negligence lawsuits. The cities of New York and Los Angeles are among U.S. cities that have sought billions of dollars in claims alleging industry negligence in selling rifles and handguns to criminals. The bill was the top legislative priority for the National Rifle Association.