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Social Security Plan's Support Dwindling

Most Don't Back Bush Idea, Poll Finds
President Bush yesterday said his plan to restructure Social Security would improve the program's long-term stability without shrinking the retirement income of older Americans. But a new Washington Post-ABC News survey found a clear majority of the public does not believe that.
The poll found that 56 percent said the president's plan to couple new personal retirement accounts with a reduction in guaranteed benefits for most Americans would cut the overall retirement income of seniors. About a third -- 32 percent -- said Bush's proposals would result in future retirees receiving more money.
More troubling for a president who took a political risk by advocating reductions in future guaranteed benefits for all but the poorest Americans is that an even larger majority said the Bush plan would not fix the system's financial problems. More than six in 10 -- 63 percent -- said the proposals would not improve the long-term financial stability of the Social Security system, while 32 percent said it would...
Yet the findings suggest that Bush's ongoing campaign to win support for his proposals has produced few clear gains for the White House. If anything, his standing with the public on the Social Security issue is lower now than it was in mid-January.
According to the poll, 62 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the way he was handling Social Security, an increase of seven percentage points since January. Fewer than half -- 48 percent -- support a voluntary plan to invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market, a key change advocated by Bush, while 49 percent reject private investment accounts, down from 51 percent last month but still a five-point increase since mid-December.
More worrisome for the president is that support for personal accounts drops to 27 percent if it is coupled with a reduction in the growth of guaranteed Social Security benefits for future retirees, a provision the White House is considering...
Deep partisan divides continue to fuel the debate over Bush's Social Security proposals. A majority of Republicans -- 63 percent -- said the president's plans would improve the financial health of the system, while even larger majorities of Democrats (85 percent) and political independents (72 percent) disagreed.
Republicans were less certain that Bush's proposals would benefit seniors financially. Less than half -- 47 percent -- said future retirees would collect more money under the Bush plan, while 39 percent disagreed. Majorities of Democrats (74 percent) and political independents (58 percent) predicted that seniors would be hurt, not helped.
The president is making some headway with the main target of his campaign -- younger Americans. A strong majority -- 71 percent -- of those younger than 30 endorsed private investment accounts compared with 27 percent of those age 65 or older.
But young people are sharply divided over whether Bush's proposals would produce greater wealth for seniors, as the president has predicted: 44 percent of those younger than 30 said his plan would decrease a retiree's income, while 43 percent predicted it would mean more money for seniors in their retirement years.
Older Americans are more certain: Strong majorities predict that the president's plans would mean less income for future retirees.
A total of 1,002 randomly selected adults were interviewed June 2 to 5 for this survey. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points.
Assistant polling director Claudia Deane contributed to this report.
By Richard Morin and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, Jun 9, 2005
Bush Warns of Repercussions Over Social Security Inaction
Heading into two months of legislative maneuvering that is likely to determine the fate of his push to overhaul Social Security, President Bush warned Congress on Wednesday that inaction could breed political repercussions.
Faced with intense opposition to his ideas from Democrats, unease among many Republicans and skepticism from the public, Mr. Bush used a speech here to press doggedly on with his call for the creation of private investment accounts within the retirement system and cuts in the benefits now promised to middle- and upper-income workers.
"Now is the time for Congress to come to the table and get something done," Mr. Bush said...
In seeking to build public pressure on Congress, Mr. Bush is banking on his ability to mobilize public opinion at a moment when his standing in the polls has been hurt by the continued fighting in Iraq and his handling of a number of issues. He is also bucking considerable doubts among voters that his solutions are the right ones...
As he has all year, Mr. Bush suggested that he wanted to work with both parties to reach an agreement. But Democrats on Capitol Hill, especially in the Senate, have signaled that they will not come to the table as long as Mr. Bush insists on including private investment accounts paid out of Social Security payroll taxes.
At the same time, Republicans in both the House and the Senate are reluctant to vote for any legislation that would cut benefits, especially if there is little or no support from Democrats, who would no doubt try to use the issue to their advantage in the 2006 Congressional elections.
As a result, it is not clear whether Mr. Bush can coax a bill out of either the Senate Finance Committee or the House Ways and Means Committee.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Finance Committee, has already given up the idea of reaching a bipartisan package, at least initially. In fact, he has yet to find a consensus among the 10 other
Republicans on his committee on how to shore up Social Security's finances. The Republicans on the committee will meet Thursday morning, and Mr. Grassley is expected to push hard for agreement - soon - on how to assure the system's solvency.
Even if they reach agreement on that front, Republicans on the committee are unlikely to agree unanimously on and produce a majority for investment accounts of the sort sought by Mr. Bush. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, a Republican from Maine and a member of the committee, is opposed to the accounts.
By Richard W. Stevenson and Robin Toner, New York Times, Jun 9, 2005
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