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Dems jeer bush threat to social security

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Posted on Thu, Feb. 03, 2005
Bush urges major changes for Social Security


Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Warning that the graying of America could bankrupt Social Security before the middle of this century, President Bush implored Congress on Wednesday night to strengthen the safety net for generations of Americans to come, while promising nothing would change for those 55 and older.

Outlining the details of a proposed new personal savings account for the retirements of younger Americans, the president, in the first State of the Union address of his second term, invited the House and Senate to cooperate with him in averting financial calamity for the Social Security system.

"Social Security ... on its current path is headed toward bankruptcy," Bush said, calling for "wise and effective reform" of the 7-decade-old system.

Entering an era of financial strain at a time of war, Bush urged Congress to rein in domestic spending while resisting terrorism worldwide.

Bush vowed to cut the nation's budget deficit in half by the end of his term and asked Congress to make the tax cuts of his first term permanent. He also urged Congress to keep its costly commitment to military missions abroad to "defeat the dangers of our time."

Paying tribute to the enormous popularity of a program that was the centerpiece of the New Deal and remains among the most cherished of federal entitlements, Bush proclaimed a moral necessity to save Social Security, which he said would otherwise be unable to meet the needs of future generations.

"Social Security was a great moral success of the 20th century, and we must honor its great purposes in this new century," Bush said.

At times sounding like a math teacher, and at others like a calming leader, Bush sought to convey the urgent need he sees to reform Social Security, while reassuring those who fear that the long-trusted system would become a "roulette," as Democrats said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., maintains that none of the 44 Democrats and one independent in the Senate support Bush's proposal for personal retirement accounts. This is enough to derail floor debate.

Bush turned forceful and jabbed his finger as he addressed workers and retirees 55 and older. "Don't let anyone mislead you," he said. "For you, the system will not change in any way." Polls suggest older Americans are far more wary of Bush's proposed changes than younger workers.

Turning his focus beyond "a free and sovereign Iraq" following its recent elections, and basking in congressional applause for the vote, Bush named Iran as "the world's primary state sponsor of terror" and vowed to join European leaders in persuading Iranians to forfeit a nuclear-weapons program. He called on Syria to end all support for terrorism.

"We have known times of sorrow, and hours of uncertainty, and days of victory," said Bush, whose wife, Laura, watched from the House gallery seated alongside military men and women who have served in Iraq, parents of a Marine from Texas who died in Iraq and two new voters who cast ballots in historic elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. The woman from Iraq stood and raised two fingers in a "V for victory" gesture. Later, she and the Marine's mother exchanged an emotional hug.

"The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom's power to change the world," said Bush, restating an inaugural pledge ultimately to end tyranny in the world.

Bush, insisting that announcing an exit strategy will only "embolden" insurgents in Iraq, maintained that the military mission there is part of a broader battle against terrorism worldwide, as is the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

"Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored in Iraq," Bush said. "We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty, as they showed the world last Sunday."

Bush stressed his commitment to establishment of a free Palestinian state, telling Congress he will ask for $350 million to support reform there.

This is part of a $80 billion spending plan for Iraq and Afghanistan and the construction of an American embassy in Baghdad that Bush will hand Congress later this month, after submitting his new budget.

"America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," Bush said. "We are witnessing landmark events in the history of liberty. And in the coming years, we will add to that story."

The president outlined a boldly ambitious domestic agenda that political experts say he may have just two years to accomplish before midterm congressional elections take a traditional toll on the party of the president in power.

The agenda outlined Wednesday night before a joint session of Congress and the television-viewing American public reaches far beyond Bush's most controversial goal of overhauling Social Security. Bush's proposals included federal tax reforms, limits on liability lawsuits, a guest worker program for illegal immigrants "to fill jobs Americans will not take" and additional financial aid for religious organizations delivering social services. Bush said he will seek a three-year initiative to help private organizations keep young people out of gangs.

In a nod to conservative voters who helped re-elect him, Bush voiced his commitment to "a culture of life" - restating opposition to "experimentation" with human embryos. He reiterated support for a constitutional ban against gay marriage. And he asked Congress to finance treatment for AIDS patients.

Bush said he will seek money for DNA testing and for the training of defense lawyers for capital cases, "because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers."

With a stated goal of making health care more affordable - while restricting the money that victims of medical malpractice can win in court - Bush said he will pursue tax credits to help low-income workers purchase insurance and pledged "a community health center in every poor county."

Yet Bush's agenda for this Congress includes cautious federal spending, even as his bid for new spending in Iraq and Afghanistan pushes the federal budget deficit this year to a record $427 billion.

"During this time of war, we must continue to support our military and give them the tools for victory," said Bush, vowing to "build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time."

When he unveils his budget next week, the president will ask Congress to hold the growth of discretionary spending within inflation, while eliminating more than 150 programs "not getting results." Bush said: "A taxpayer dollar must be spent wisely, or not at all."

Yet, even if he can make the case that Social Security is bound for bankruptcy, Bush faces stiff opposition to his newly outlined plan to permit workers born since 1950 to invest part of their payroll taxes for Social Security in government-managed, personal savings accounts. Many Republicans have joined Democrats in voicing unease over Bush's proposals.

The White House also allows that this plan alone will not solve the fiscal crisis Social Security faces in coming decades, and Bush has called on Congress to help him solve the problem "once and for all."

"We must join together to strengthen and save Social Security," said Bush, pledging to cooperate in "the most effective combination of reforms."

By inviting congressional leaders to advance their own solutions, Bush had hoped to reach out to Democrats balking at his own plans. Yet, while his 53-minute speech was interrupted by applause 65 times, Bush heard the jeers of Democrats scoffing at his claim that Social Security will go bankrupt.

"This is not the time for drawing lines in the sand," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday of the opposition.

But that's precisely what Senate Democrats are doing on the question of personal savings accounts.

"The Bush plan isn't really Social Security reform," Reid said in a televised response to the State of the Union address. "It's more like Social Security roulette. ... And that's coming from a senator who represents Las Vegas."

Democrats also complained that Bush, arriving just days after successful elections in Iraq, offered no "exit strategy" for American forces.


2005, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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