And to help drum up support, the President has apparently decided to bring the increasing popular Tom DeLay along with him...
Bush Extends Social Security Tour as Support in Polls Dwindles
April 26 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush's strategy for wrapping up his 60-day, 60-stop tour to whip up support for revamping Social Security is simple: ignore the calendar and keep on stumping.
As the scheduled May 1 conclusion of his speaking tour approaches, Bush is planning to extend his campaign-style travels across the country in an effort to reverse the dwindling public support for his plan. An ABC News-Washington Post poll released yesterday showed that 64 percent of Americans now disapprove of his handling of Social Security, up from 56 percent in March.
Even as the president struggles to accomplish his original goal of selling voters on making individual investment accounts the centerpiece of any changes in the program, some of his chief allies in Congress, such as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are urging him to change his focus. They say Bush should be emphasizing the issue of the retirement program's solvency rather than private accounts, and should present a detailed plan to lawmakers.
``He made a strategic mistake talking about the accounts in isolation,'' said Graham, who has taken the lead on negotiations with Democrats on the issue. ``If you have behind you `ownership' as the banner, that's not what people look at Social Security as being. They look at Social Security as a safety net.''
The president is in Galveston, Texas, today -- joined by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who is battling ethics allegations -- to continue making the case that Social Security is facing a funding crisis. The Senate Finance Committee is opening hearings on keeping the program solvent at the same time.
The 60-day campaign ends May 1 and the president then will move into what White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan calls ``the next phase'' of talking about solutions to stem future funding shortfalls in the system.
``The president is going to continue to travel across the country,'' McClellan said April 18. Bush has declined to offer a detailed plan beyond the private accounts, saying it's up to Congress to offer proposals. Democrats are refusing to come to the table without specifics from the administration.
The decision to continue campaign-style trips underscores the dilemma Bush faces. It will be almost impossible to recruit congressional backing until the president wins more public support. As of now, leaders of both parties say there is little prospect for any bi-partisan accord, which is essential to enactment of any major Social Security legislation.
``Social Security reform is stuck in the mud on Capitol Hill,'' said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington-based newsletter reporting on electoral politics. ``The only way to move this issue forward is to create a groundswell at the grassroots.''
So far, the groundswell for Bush's plan has failed to materialize, judging by polls and comments from lawmakers.
``It doesn't look good,'' said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy research organization in Washington. No recent poll shows Bush with an approval rating higher than 35 percent on Social Security, she said. ``The issue is fading,'' she said. Voters ``seem a little bored with it.''
Bush made Social Security his top domestic priority in his Feb. 2 state of the union speech. On March 2 he and Treasury Secretary John Snow announced the 60-day, 60-city cycle of town- hall meetings and roundtable discussions with supporters to promote private accounts as a key element of the solution. The administration set up a Web site to chronicle their progress.
``We've seen a clear shift in the course of the last month or so from the question: `Is there a problem?' to the question: `How do we fix it?''' Snow said in kicking off the road show.
The administration is still trying to answer those questions. During an April 18 Bush trip to South Carolina, McClellan said that after the 60-day period ends, the administration would embark on a campaign that ``will focus more on solutions.''
Opponents say the president is being forced to prolong his bid for public approval because opposition to private accounts proved stronger than the president's advisers anticipated.
``The administration is still trying to sell the same old idea, just in different ways, and the public is still not buying,'' said David Certner, director of federal affairs for the AARP, the nation's biggest seniors group and an opponent of Bush's proposal. ``Unless the administration decides to go in a different direction, we're going to have a continued stalemate.''
Bush's plan would allow workers younger than 55 to divert up to a third of their payroll taxes into accounts invested in stocks and bonds. He has acknowledged that won't plug a $3.7 trillion funding gap the program faces over the next 75 years.
Hearings in Congress
Today's Senate Finance Committee hearings on Social Security will include testimony by some of the nation's leading advocates for private accounts.
The hearing gives the White House a fresh chance to reach the American public. Among those who will testify is Robert Pozen, chairman of Boston-based MFS Investment Management, whose proposal for restructuring benefits has been highlighted by Bush in speeches. Pozen proposes graduated benefit cuts for middle-and high-income individuals while maintaining the current formula for the poor to address funding shortfalls.
They also give opponents a staging opportunity. Americans United to Protect Social Security, the main opposition group that includes the AFL-CIO, is planning to stage rallies in 33 states including one outside the Capitol, said Brad Woodhouse, a coalition spokesman.
Earlier this month in a visit to Kirtland, Ohio, Bush said the campaign to win public approval ``is just starting.''
``I'm going to be relentless on the subject,'' Bush said April 15. ``The American people are wise. They just need to know the facts.''
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents Washington, D.C., in the House, said that won't change Democratic opposition. ``I'm inclined to invite him to stay out there,'' she said in an April 22 conference call with reporters. ``Never have the American people had such an education in Social Security and what it means to them. He's helping us make our point.''Last Updated: April 26, 2005 00:05 EDT