A cocky President Bush issued a threat to opponents of his Social Security plan Monday, saying the key to getting the overhaul through Congress is to convince a majority there is a long-term problem and making sure opponents don’t frighten seniors into believing their checks are going to be cut.

Asserting “an obligation to lead” on the issue, Bush said an interview with The Wall Street Journal for Tuesday’s editions, that he will try to provide political cover for those who support overhaul and make it politically risky to oppose.

“I think two of the things that are going to be important for the members to understand, once they’ve come to the realization there is a problem, is that no longer can they frighten seniors by saying, if we do this, seniors aren’t going to get their checks,” he said. “I think it’s become pretty clear in people’s minds that the issue … does not revolve around those who have retired or those who are near retirement.

“The issue, really, is about younger workers and most younger workers believe that they’re not going to see a dime unless something is done. And most younger workers, as far as I can tell, like the idea of being able to take some of their own money and managing for their own retirement, in order to more likely have the promise of Social Security fulfilled.”

The president said he understands that Congress is prone to inaction until there is a crisis, but that “in the end what matters is reforming the system so that it … doesn’t 20 years from now pop back up on a president’s screen saying, oh, goodness, we got to do this again.”

As to whether the current situation constitutes a crisis, he said, “You can call it whatever you want to call it, whatever adjective you want to describe the problem. I think it’s real, I think it’s fundamental, I think we have an obligation. … I would also say that I think people are taking a risk politically if they stand up and say it’s not a problem, because I think most people realize it is, particularly younger people.”

In the interview, Bush also discussed his commitment to bringing democracy to the Middle East.

“I understand there are many who say, ‘Bush is wrong,'” he said. “I assume I’m right. It’s exciting to be part of stimulating a debate of such significance,” he went on. “It really is the philosophical argument of the age.”