President Bush yesterday pledged to “keep pounding the issue” of Social Security reform in the face of Democrats in Congress who are determined to stop him and Republicans who want to scale back his plan.
“I’m going to be stubborn on the issue, and we’re going to keep working this until we get something done,” Mr. Bush said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the 20th state he has visited since his second inauguration to push his idea of incorporating private retirement accounts into the Social Security program.
“Now is the time to address tough problems, before it becomes acute for younger generations of Americans,” he said.
The president’s barnstorming campaign for Social Security reform resembles his presidential campaign, where he preferred dealing with local reporters to the national press corps. In Iowa, Mr. Bush granted an interview to the morning host on WHO radio while sitting in the Spring House Family Restaurant.
Mr. Bush said he agreed with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s view that the Social Security “safety net” is “unsustainable,” and he will continue working to fix it.
“I love this,” he said. “I love taking on big issues, because I think that’s my job. I think that’s why the people of the country put me in office.
“I like traveling the country,” Mr. Bush said. “I like coming to the great state of Iowa. Been here quite a few times, and may have to come back to keep pounding on the issue, but it’s the right thing to do, which is to address problems.”
Democrats are staunchly opposed to Mr. Bush’s reform plans, which would involve allowing workers to take a portion of their Social Security taxes and invest them in safe stock and bond mutual funds.
The Social Security trustees reported this week that the government-run retirement system will begin to run a deficit in 2017 and become insolvent in 2041 — two deadlines that have been moved up one year in the past 12 months.
The AARP, a powerful lobbying group that represents 35 million seniors, yesterday released a poll taken earlier this month of 1,000 members age 50 or older that found that 60 percent oppose the idea of diverting up to $1,300 of their Social Security taxes into private accounts.
In the poll, which had a margin of error of four percentage points, 29 percent said they backed the plan, and the rest had no opinion.
Mr. Bush’s plan would apply only to those under age 55, not affecting most current members of AARP, which opposes Mr. Bush’s plan.
One lawmaker whom Mr. Bush will need on his side for his plan to pass is Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who has expressed reservations about Mr. Bush’s private-accounts proposal, and suggested last week that it should be scaled back.
Mr. Bush yesterday applied gentle pressure on Mr. Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, where any Social Security reform bill would be born.
“Both Senator Grassley and I have dedicated ourselves to taking on the tough problem of Social Security,” Mr. Bush said.
The people “expect a president to lead, and they expect the chairman of the Finance Committee to lead as well,” Mr. Bush said. “And, fortunately, the good state of Iowa has got such a man in Charles Grassley. I’m looking forward to working with him on this issue.”