- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

FARGO, N.D. — President Bush yesterday began a two-day, five-state trip to sell the country on his plan to reform Social Security, stopping where he hopes his personal intervention can gain Democratic support, although the opposition party denounced his ideas again yesterday.

Mr. Bush, armed with charts and the stories of locals who support his idea of incorporating private accounts into Social Security, told a friendly crowd at North Dakota State University that people near retirement “have nothing to worry about.”

But for younger workers, he said, “the math doesn’t work.”

“I’m going to spend the next couple of days going around the country explaining to people as clearly as I can, the problem,” Mr. Bush said, promising to work with Democrats in Congress, nearly all whom have united to oppose him.

“All different ideas as to how to solve the problem are on the table,” he said. “We’re not going to play politics with the issue. We’re going to say, ‘If you’ve got a good idea, come forth with your idea.’ Because now is the time to put partisanship aside and focus on saving Social Security for young workers.”

The president used his State of the Union address on Wednesday to lay out the basic details of his plan to reform an entitlement that the Social Security trustees say will begin running a deficit in 2018 and be bankrupt in 2042.

The Social Security system would not change for anyone 55 and older, Mr. Bush said. But everyone else could choose to gradually wean themselves off of the program by taking about half of their payroll taxes that now support the pay-as-you-go system and pour them into safe stocks and bonds.

Since the stock market over any 20-year period — even periods including market crashes — always has yielded an average annual return of at least 4 percent, younger workers would have a larger retirement nest egg than if they depended solely on Social Security, the president said.

“It’s a good deal for younger workers because it compounds at a rate of interest faster than the money inside the Social Security trust,” Mr. Bush said. “You start setting aside money at a young age, it grows over time. It’s your money. It’s money that you can decide to leave to whomever you want. It’s money that the government can never take away.”

Democrats contend Mr. Bush is creating a “false crisis” and say he will destroy Social Security and add trillions of dollars to the national debt.

“The American people trust the Democratic Party on Social Security,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who held a rally in Washington at the memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed Social Security into law 70 years ago.

“Democrats created Social Security,” she said. “Democrats defended it against Republican raids. And it will be Democrats who lead the way in strengthening Social Security for future generations.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, accompanied Mr. Bush to his home state aboard Air Force One, but he is not on board with the president’s Social Security reform.

“You take what the president said in his address [Wednesday] night, he’s talking about more tax cuts, more spending, more borrowing for private accounts,” Mr. Conrad told the Associated Press. “It doesn’t add up.”

Mr. Conrad said that at least five Republican senators have approached him in the past 10 days looking to form a bipartisan group to offer an alternative to the president’s proposal.

“The plan that’s been outlined, they know it can’t pass,” Mr. Conrad said.

The president finished his day at an event in Great Falls, Mont., the home state of Sen. Max Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, where any Social Security reform would be born.

Mr. Bush will hold three more events to promote his plan today in Nebraska, Arkansas and Florida — three states that backed him for president in both 2000 and 2004, and where the White House hopes to pressure Democratic senators.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, was the only member of his party not to sign a letter yesterday crafted by his caucus to slam Mr. Bush’s plan, and he is up for re-election in 2006. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, also must run for his seat again next year.

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