Bush Tips 10-Gallon To DeLay

House Speaker Tom DeLay, R-Tex., reacts to audience applause for him after President Bush praised his leadership, in opening remarks at a roundtable discussion on Social Security at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas Tuesday, April 26, 2005.
AP
President Bush on Tuesday gave embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay a high-profile, in-person show of support, warmly thanking the Texas Republican, who is facing allegations of ethical improprieties, for his leadership in Congress.

Mr. Bush traveled to Galveston, Texas, to pitch his proposal to add private investment accounts to Social Security. DeLay didn't participate in the public discussion and sat several rows back in the audience.

But the presence of the man seen by the White House as crucial to pushing Mr. Bush's plans through Congress was no accident.

DeLay was included in the event held near his congressional district — and offered a ride back to Washington on Air Force One along with a few other Texas Republicans — to show that "the president appreciates his leadership in the House," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Mr. Bush took the time to offer a DeLay personal salute, saying, "...I appreciate the leadership of Congressman Tom DeLay in working on important issues that matter to this country."

The president also took care to note that he had talked privately backstage with DeLay, "who kindly joined us today."

Earlier, there were cheers and shouts of "We love you, Tom" and "We're with you, Tom" from the audience when DeLay walked in the auditorium for the Bush event.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee heard sometimes contentious testimony about the Social Security system.

The committee chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that doing nothing will trigger at least a 28-percent cut in benefits by 2041, showing why the current Congress should work on changes to achieve "sustainable solvency."

"Those of you that are bad-mouthing every other suggestion out there, suggest your own plans," the 71-year-old part-time farmer exhorted, his voice rising.

"Doing nothing is not an option, because doing nothing is a cut in benefits," the senator added.

Grassley's committee was conducting the first congressional hearing on Mr. Bush's request to draft Social Security legislation. The president has made change in the system his top domestic priority.

The Democrats, meanwhile, were also busy in a bid to continue the party's united opposition to the Bush plan. Groups on both sides of the issue plan large rallies on Capitol Hill today, to sway opinions and move votes.

Cara Morris, of Americans United to Protect Social Security, said the group's protest would an important message: "We want these Finance Committee members to know that the public is not in favor of privatization; in fact, they're overwhelmingly against," she told CBS Radio News.

The Finance Committee's top Democrat, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, also said that Social Security faced financial problems, but he added that personal accounts would only increase those problems by triggering more government borrowing to finance the startup costs.

"We do not have to privatize Social Security in order to save it," Baucus said in his opening statement. "Clearly we need to address Social Security's long-run financing. Nobody disputes that. It's clear. But we do not have to make drastic changes."

A Washington Post-ABC News poll out Tuesday found a decline in public support — only 45 percent of those surveyed favored Bush's plan to divert Social Security taxes into private investments, compared with 56 percent who had supported it in a March poll.