- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

ORLANDO, Fla. — President Bush yesterday stumped for his Social Security reform plan in the country’s most popular retirement Mecca, telling skeptical senior citizens that his plan to establish private accounts will not affect the program they have long cherished.

“I’m going to say this once, I may say it five times before this is over,” Mr. Bush said at Pensacola Junior College. “If you’re getting a [Social Security] check, nothing is going to change. I don’t care what the propaganda says. I don’t care about the political rhetoric. You’re going to get your check.”

To broaden his appeal to the one demographic that has been most reluctant to back his plan, the president brought along his 79-year-old mother to help pitch reform. She also helped lighten the mood when Mr. Bush suggested to the audience that she accompanied him only so she could tell him what to do.

“If you would listen, I’d tell you more,” Barbara Bush told her son. “But that’s really not why I’m here. I’m here because your father and I have 17 grandchildren, all born after 1950. And we want to know [if] someone is going to do something about it.”

Mr. Bush said Social Security does not work like a trust fund in which the government saves the money every worker puts into the system and waits until a person’s retirement to return it with interest.

“The government takes your payroll taxes and pays out to the people who have now retired,” Mr. Bush said. “If they got any money left over, it goes to pay other parts of government. And all that’s left is an IOU.”

Meanwhile, recent polls suggested that Mr. Bush’s 60-day sales tour is making progress. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday showed a majority, 72 percent, think Social Security “is heading for a crisis down the road” and must be reformed.

Asked about support for “a plan in which people who chose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market” — what Mr. Bush is proposing — 56 percent approved of the idea, including 60 percent of those younger than 50.

An Ayres, McHenry and Associates poll released this week suggested Mr. Bush might be making headway with seniors. The poll showed that 58 percent of registered voters older than 55 thought “it is a good idea” to create private accounts. Even a slim majority of those who belong to AARP — which staunchly opposes the president’s plan — think Social Security is in crisis and is open to Mr. Bush’s ideas.

The powerful seniors lobbying group, however, will unveil a new multimillion-dollar ad campaign Monday that is aimed at those between the ages of 25 and 49.

The ads, to be run in Rolling Stone and People magazines and on television and radio, will make the analogy that “if you have a problem with the sink, you don’t tear down the entire house,” said Christine Donohoo, AARP’s chief communications officer.

“Social Security needs to be strengthened,” Mrs. Donohoo said. “But creating private accounts that take money out of Social Security is an extreme measure that is too drastic, too expensive and too risky.”

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