By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
April 21, 2005
The president met with several House members Thursday telling them that all reform ideas remain on the table - with the exception of raising the payroll tax to replenish trust-fund coffers scheduled to run dry in 2041.
Bush also told members of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America meeting in Washington that reforming the government-run retirement system can't wait.
"You see, the longer we wait to fix this problem, the more drastic the solutions become," he said. "As a matter of fact, the Social Security trustees say every year we wait to fix the system will add an additional $600 billion to the cost of reform. In other words, if this city gets locked down because of politics, that lockdown costs a future generation $600 billion every year. In other words, we've got a serious problem."
Bush's continued push for some sort of change in Social Security - he has yet to unveil a specific plan - comes at a crucial time.
In addition to trying to salvage the Bolton nomination and urging Congress to adopt an energy policy, Bush also is keeping an eye on the war in Iraq, an economy that suddenly looks vulnerable and the ethics problems confronting House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
"We have an ambitious agenda here in Washington," the president acknowledged on Thursday. "There's a lot to do."
Despite maintaining a constant focus on the matter, Bush has failed to convince the public that action on Social Security is necessary. A CBS News poll, conducted April 13-16, showed that only 25 percent of respondents expressed confidence in his ability to make the right decisions regarding Social Security, while 70 percent expressed unease.
Recent ups and downs in the stock market haven't helped the president make the case for the creation of private accounts, which has been the president's primary thrust. The White House wants to provide young workers with an option to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into private accounts, with the money invested in stocks. Those sorts of funds would have taken a hit in recent days.
However, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said retirees would still benefit from the private funds in the face of a slumping stock market.
"If you want to take the broader view, I would look at where it's been over the last few years and where it is today," McClellan said. "But I think when you're talking about the economy, you have to look at the overall picture. We are seeing solid economic growth and job creation because of the pro-growth policies that the president has worked to enact. And he's continuing to pursue pro-growth policies to build upon the economic progress that we are making."
The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 6 percent between Jan. 1 and April 20, but the stock market closed on an uptick Thursday.