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ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN IS LIKELY TO WORSEN, GINGRICH SAYS

SHARE ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN IS LIKELY TO WORSEN, GINGRICH SAYS

The economic slowdown reflected in recent statistics is likely to get worse, House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Saturday.

"I think we're much closer to a recession than economists believe," Gingrich told a news conference. "They tend to lag behind."Figures released Friday showed that the economy grew just 2.1 percent last year, the poorest showing since the recession year of 1991, and growth was much slower in the second half. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress last week that the economy is on track for sustained growth.

Gingrich said the slowdown "is a reminder that we need to work on lowering interest rates," something he has said could be achieved by balancing the budget.

At a town hall meeting, Gingrich also sharply criticized the presidential nominating process while continuing to remain neutral in the GOP contest.

"It's a very destructive process," he said. "It's maniacally stupid and demeans our whole society."

Recalling that Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas spent about four hours at each of their famous debates, he deplored the current system, in which debating candidates provide only brief statements.

"When Lincoln explained his position on slavery, he took 45 minutes and didn't care what people thought about it, even that night. Now, pollsters tell us even as we use a certain word how people react."