- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — President Bush yesterday warned Americans not to believe the “propaganda” in television ads that charge his Social Security reform proposal would cut benefits to seniors, as he began to emphasize a long-term fix for the retirement program.

In speeches here and in Shreveport, La., the president urged Congress to move swiftly to overhaul Social Security, which some analysts say will begin paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes in 13 years.

“Let’s fix this permanently, let’s don’t slap a Band-Aid on the problem,” Mr. Bush said in Memphis. “Now is the time to put aside our political differences and focus on solving this problem for generations of Americans to come.”

Mr. Bush again warned lawmakers that they risk retribution from voters if they do not take up the matter. Democrats have vehemently opposed the president’s proposal.

“Let’s do our duty. And I believe that when this debate gets moving hard and people get educated about the realities of Social Security, woe be to the politician who doesn’t come to the table and try to come up with a solution,” he said.

Mr. Bush is facing resistance not only from Democrats, but also from seniors, many of whom believe the personal accounts — which would affect only Americans under 55 — will eventually lead to cuts in benefits. Meanwhile, Democrats continue to deluge the airwaves with ads that charge the president’s plan will do just that.

“The president fails to understand that the truly scary proposition for the American people is benefit cuts up to nearly 50 percent and $5 trillion in new debt,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said yesterday. “This is why Americans of all ages are rejecting the Republican plan.”

A recent poll of people 18 to 29 years old show a majority approve of the plan, while people over 55 largely oppose it, which is significant because the latter group votes heavily. For his part, Mr. Bush vowed to travel the country to deliver his message directly to Americans.

“I want to start by saying to the seniors here in Tennessee and folks listening on your television set that for you — for those of you receiving a check today, and for those of you, like me, near retirement, nothing is going to change for you. You will get your check. I don’t care what the TV ads say. I don’t care what the propaganda says. You’re going to get your check,” he said.

While not a single Democratic lawmaker has publicly supported the president’s personal-account plan, Mr. Bush yesterday brought along former Rep. Tim Penny, Minnesota Democrat. “Mr. President, thank you, first, for putting this issue on top of the agenda because it is an urgent issue, and it’s one that needs to be addressed sooner than later. Doing nothing is not an option,” Mr. Penny said.

The two-day trip that ended yesterday took the president to Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky and Alabama, where Republicans hold seven of the eight Senate seats. Next week, he will visit Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona — all “red” states, bringing his total since announcing the proposal last month to 18.

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