President Bush rejected any “Band-Aid solutions” that do not permanently solve Social Security’s future fiscal problems, switching his focus Thursday from touting personal accounts to the program’s long-term solvency.
“We need to solve this issue now and forever. The longer we wait, the worse it gets to solve it,” Bush said from the stage of the Kentucky Center.
The president started a two-day Southern swing to push the top item on his domestic agenda — an overhaul of Social Security that includes allowing younger workers to set up personal retirement accounts with a portion of Social Security payroll taxes that would be invested in stocks and bonds. In return, future retirees who choose to set up those accounts would see a lower traditional benefit check.
Bush’s Social Security travels — now to 11 states since his Feb. 2 State of the Union address — have two primary goals: comforting Republicans who are wary of the possible political repercussions in next year’s midterm congressional elections and shoring up GOP lawmakers who already are on his side on this issue.
Rep. Anne Northup, a Republican elected five times in the Democratic-leaning Lousiville-based district, who supports letting workers create personal accounts, got a huge plug from Bush.
“I’m really proud of the job Anne Northup is doing,” Bush said. “She is smart. She is capable. She wants to confront problems now before they become worse. She loves her family. She loves Louisville, Kentucky.”
But many other Republicans are skeptical of his proposal, so Bush has been attempting to calm seniors’ fears about the changes and thus provide political cover for GOP lawmakers.
Thursday’s conversation before a mostly hand-picked audience included two local grandfathers and their granddaughters. The White House was seeking to show that there are both seniors and young people who believe private accounts are the only way to preserve a strong Social Security system for future generations.
“Nothing changes for people who are retired or nearly retired,” Bush said. “More and more citizens understand that and therefore more and more grandfathers are asking the president ‘How about my granddaughter? I understand I’m safe, what are you going to do about her?”’
The president was interrupted four times by people yelling protests of his Social Security plans. Some shouted “No more lies, don’t privatize!” and some held signs that read “Hands off my Social Security.” Each time, they were drowned out by either Bush talking over them or the crowd’s cheers, or both.
“There are different points of view on the issue,” Bush finally acknowledged, after the fourth interruption. “We don’t need a Band-Aid solution.”
Meanwhile, Allan Hubbard, Bush’s top economic adviser, rejected bipartisan proposals that the administration put aside its drive to create private accounts and focus on the system’s solvency.
In an interview published in Thursday’s editions of USA Today, he also dismissed a Democratic proposal that investment accounts be created as a supplement to Social Security, not as a part of the system that diverts a portion of payroll taxes.
Before he left the White House Thursday, Bush met with several House Republicans, part of a series of such sessions that are part of the president’s lobbying blitz on the issue.
Democrats, meanwhile, remain almost unanimously united in their opposition to Bush’s desire for private accounts, saying they would saddle the nation with trillions of dollars of additional debt without fixing Social Security’s long term financial problems.
Later Thursday, Bush was taking his message to Montgomery, Ala., and then traveling on for similar events Friday in Memphis, Tenn., and Shreveport, La.
Montgomery is represented by two Republicans, Reps. Terry Everett and Mike Rogers, neither of whom have yet taken a position on Bush’s plan. Rogers was the only one of the state’s seven GOP congressmen who had announced beforehand that he was planning to attend the event alongside Bush.