- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

President Bush yesterday said incorporating private accounts into Social Security won’t solve the program’s long-term solvency problems, but should be part of a solution for a “permanent fix that will last forever.”

Mr. Bush addressed the Social Security issue as part of a wide-ranging White House press conference, during which he made it clear he wants members of Congress to spend their Easter recess thinking most about reforming the retirement program, an issue that has become a flash point of partisanship in recent weeks.

“I urge the members to go out and, when they go home, to talk to their constituents not only about the problem, but about solutions,” Mr. Bush said. “I urge members to start talking about how we’re going to permanently fix Social Security.”

The president’s idea is to allow workers younger than 55 to take part of their Social Security withholding and put it into private savings accounts.

Democrats have demanded that Mr. Bush take that option off the table before they will begin to negotiate a fix for Social Security, which analysts expect to begin running a deficit in 13 years and become insolvent in 2042.

“Then we [will] work together on [a] bipartisan basis to fix Social Security so in the out years it is viable, just like it is now,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told rawstory.com yesterday.

Mr. Bush acknowledges that private accounts alone will not fix the system, but says are vital to offset the inevitable cuts in benefits in the future for younger workers.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, put together an event at the Capitol with a 1935 Ford Coupe to illustrate that Social Security — also born that year — needs to be updated.

“I think you see where I’m going with this,” Mr. Hastert said. “What worked in 1935 isn’t going to work in 2035. We need to do something now to strengthen Social Security.”

The president continues his 60-day tour of the country to sell his Social Security reform ideas with a stop tomorrow in Florida. He will visit Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico early next week.

Mr. Bush also addressed the administration’s “long-standing practice” of distributing videos to television stations outlining its policy, despite a report by the Government Accountability Office suggesting the practice is not ethical.

“There is a Justice Department opinion that says these pieces are within the law, so long as they are based in facts, not advocacy,” the president said. “I think it would be helpful if local stations disclosed to their viewers that this was based upon a factual [government] report.”

The practice has come under greater scrutiny since it was revealed in January that the Education Department paid conservative columnist Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. The White House stopped the payments and denounced the department’s actions once it learned of the payments.

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