Bush points finger at Democrats on Social Security

By Caren Bohan
2 hours, 26 minutes ago

SILVER SPRING, Md. (Reuters) -
President Bush on Thursday praised the fact Republicans had put forward proposals to restructure the U.S. retirement program and blamed Democrats for the troubles facing his
Social Security plan.

While he lauded their efforts, Bush did not address specifics of the starkly different proposals offered by the U.S. House of Representatives Republican leadership and Republican Sen. Robert Bennett (news, bio, voting record) of Utah. Both also differ from what Bush has proposed.

"I was pleased to see some Republican members of the House and the Senate have started laying out ideas. I've been laying out ideas. I think it's time for the leadership in the Democrat party to start laying out ideas," Bush said at a high school in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland.

"See, the American people expect those of us who come to Washington, D.C., to negotiate in good faith on behalf of the people. If there's a problem, people ought to say, 'here's what I'm for,' not what they're against."

Bush's accusations that Democrats were refusing to negotiate in good faith marked a sharpening of his rhetoric and a shift from an approach of trying to reach out to members of the opposing party to forge a bipartisan compromise.

Although the president traveled the country for months to pitch his idea to create private investment accounts out of Social Security, the proposal has become increasingly unpopular with the public.

Democrats argue private accounts will deepen Social Security's financial problems and are adamant that they will not negotiate with Bush on ways to fix Social Security unless he takes the private accounts idea off the table.

Republicans themselves are divided on Social Security issue, with many worried they will suffer a backlash in the 2006 mid-term elections because of voter fears about changes to the popular retirement program.

House Republican leaders back a plan that embraces the private accounts idea but would finance it with current Social Security surpluses. It calls for investment of the accounts in government bonds rather than in the menu of stock and bond choices Bush has proposed. It also avoids politically unpopular benefit cuts and does not address Social Security's long-term financing problems.

Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah is planning to offer legislation to shore up Social Security's finances that would not include the private accounts idea.

Polls put Bush's approval ratings at the lowest levels of his presidency, in part because of skepticism over his private-account plan, his top legislative priority.

(Additional reporting by Donna Smith and Adam Entous)