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Bush open to Social Security suggestions

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush appealed to members of Congress to make suggestions of their own for changing Social Security on Thursday, and said they need not fear political retribution.

“It used to be in the past people would step up and say, ‘Well, here’s an interesting idea,’ “ Bush said at a news conference at the White House. “Then they would take that idea and clobber the person politically.” The president, who has repeatedly called for bipartisanship on the volatile issue, said he won’t do that.

“What I’m saying to members of Congress is that, ‘We have a problem, come together and let’s fix it, and bring your ideas forward, and I’m willing to discuss them with you.’ “

The president made his comments as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan gave Bush’s plans for private accounts a modest endorsement Thursday.

“These accounts properly constructed and managed will create a sense of increased wealth” on the part of middle and lower income workers, Greenspan said in an appearance before the House Banking Committee.

Still, the Fed chief expressed fresh concerns about the costs of a transition and the impact on financial markets.

His worry: whether increased government borrowing — needed to help bring the accounts about — would boost a variety of interest rates from mortgage rates for consumers to borrowing costs for everybody.

The president’s proposal would allow workers under age 55 to divert a chunk of their Social Security taxes into voluntary, private stock and bond investment accounts. The administration has estimated that transition costs for the next 10 years would be $754 billion.

Critics contend the true costs would be in the trillions of dollars.

Congressional Republicans have floated a variety of ideas since Bush called for personal accounts as part of a broader bill to increase the program’s solvency and made Social Security legislation the top item on his legislative agenda, including some that have been at odds with his own suggestions.

Democrats, by contrast, have consistently expressed opposition to the president’s plans, labeling them an attempt to cut benefit to pay for privatization of the government benefit program.

Bush conceded that nothing will happen “unless that Congress thinks there’s a problem. But once Congress -- once the people say to Congress, ‘There’s a problem, fix it,’ then I have a duty to say to members of Congress, ‘Bring forth your ideas.’ “

Bush added: “And I clarified a variety of ideas that people should be encouraged to bring forward, without political retribution.”

Thus far, Bush has been to eight states on his Social Security campaign, and he told reporters there will be more trips.

“And so the first priority of mine is to convince the people we have a problem, and I’m going to do that a lot,” Bush said.

Bush is leaving open the possibility of raising taxes on those who earn more than $90,000 a year to help bolster Social Security’s finances. Under the current system, payroll taxes are paid only on the first $90,000 in wages.

“The one thing I’m not open-minded about is raising the payroll tax rate. And all the other issues go on the table,” Bush told a roundtable of regional newspapers, according to an account in the New Haven (Conn.) Register.