WASHINGTON - AP President Barack Obama insisted Friday thatthe U.S. economy is showing improvement from the deepest recessionin decades but conceded the "progress has been painfully slow."He said he understands that many voters in November's elections mayblame the weak recovery on him.

Facing a rising jobless rate, Obama told a White House newsconference: "For all the progress we've made, we're not there yet.And that means people are frustrated and why people are angry." "Because I am president, and the Democrats have control of theHouse and Senate, it's understandable that people are saying, 'Whathave you done?"'

At his first formal session with reporters since May, Obamarepeated his contention that Republican obstructionism is hamperinghis ability to steer the economy into a stronger recovery.

The president, who also is the leader of the Democratic Party,spent much of his appearance before cameras on the defensive,underscoring his frustration with being unable to convince thepublic that his economic fixes are working.

He repeatedly sought to justify the high-dollar actions hisadministration has taken to boost a sputtering recovery. And heblamed Republicans for holding back future progress by uniformlyopposing other proposals on the table.

His previous revival efforts have worked, Obama said, but"haven't done as much as we needed to do." With public opinionsour on the first economic stimulus plan, Obama initially refusedto call the three-pronged economic plan he laid out this week a"stimulus" plan but then said: "There's no doubt that everythingwe've been trying to do .. . is designed to stimulate growth andjobs in the entire economy."

Much of the summer has been marked by one discouraging economicreport after another.

Yet, reports so far this month -from manufacturing to newjobless claims to home sales to business activity - have toppedmost forecasts. That has brightened the outlook somewhat as worriesof a "double-dip" recession fade.

Still, there is little that Obama can do that is likely to turnthe economy around in the short time before Election Day on Nov. 2. Obama repeated his insistence that Republicans must dropstalling tactics on a bill to help small businesses when Congressreturns next week from its summer recess.

And Obama insisted again that Bush-era tax cuts be extended forindividuals earning less than $200,000 a year and joint filersearning less than $250,000. All the Bush tax cuts are to expire atthe end of this year 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 the reason White House officials weren't usingthat word 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.

Facing a possible GOP blowout in November, Obama sought to rallyhis struggling party, casting Democrats as warriors for thehard-pressed middle class and Republicans as protectors ofmillionaires 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.