President Bush is still pushing hard to overhaul the Social Security system despite a lukewarm public reception and an effort by some nervous congressional Republicans to formulate a compromise with willing Democrats.
For the fourth time, Bush on Saturday used his weekly radio address to tout his vision for Social Security. Later this week he will travel to New Jersey and Indiana to sell his proposed transformation.
Speaking Monday to the National Governors Association in the White House, Bush said he decided to tackle the politically sensitive issue because “the government can’t afford it.”
“There’s not enough workers contributing in the system and we need to do something about it now,” he said.
The president told the assembled governors that he would be touring the country until Congress acts “to remind people not only we have a problem, but we have an obligation to fix it. And I’m looking forward to this debate.”
Indications are that the president will be facing an uphill battle. Polls consistently have shown that fewer than 40 percent support the president’s objectives. And lawmakers who met with constituents over the recess showed substantial concern over the prospects.
Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., who has conducted several town hall meetings on the issues, has already offered a compromise that differs markedly from Bush’s game plan.
Bush wants to permit workers to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into government approved investment funds, a move he claims will produce a greater rate of return. Critics assert that proposed changes won’t do anything to bolster the Social Security trust funds and will remove the traditional safety net afforded by the national retirement system.
Shaw, who recently stepped down from the chairmanship of the House Social Security Subcommittee, has proposed adopting the president’s plan for private accounts but reducing the amount workers would be permitted to shift. That, he said, will allow the government to maintain Social Security guarantees.
“From the time of Social Security’s enactment until today, the history of the program’s evolution has demonstrated that while everybody has his or her own ideas on how to strengthen the program, progress toward that goal is only achieved through bipartisan cooperation,” Shaw said. “It’s long past time for us to lay all our best thoughts on the table and work together to build on our success to make a stronger Social Security system that is an asset to all and not a liability to our children and grandchildren.”
The president hasn’t yet officially unveiled his package. Scott McClellan, the president’s press secretary, said the administration is prepared to consider all alternatives.
“I think you see in survey after survey that the American people recognize there are serious problems facing Social Security,” McClellan said. “Social Security is unsustainable over the long haul. That’s why we need to act now to strengthen it.”
(E-mail Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com.)