Gearing up for a fight in Congress, President Bush on Tuesday pushed his plan to overhaul Social Security and expressed confidence that he'll be able to convince skeptics that creating private investment accounts is the way to do it.
"Most younger people in America don't think they'll see a dime," Mr. Bush said at an event, kicking off what will be a series of appearances by his top officials to help convince the public and lawmakers that the retirement system needs fixing.
"My attitude is once we assure the seniors who receive Social Security today that everything is fine I think we've got a shot to get something done," he said.
Social Security is projected to start paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2018, according to Social Security trustees, and can pay full promised benefits only until 2042. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that the program will be solvent until 2052.
The president wants to revamp the government retirement program by letting younger workers divert some of their Social Security payroll taxes into personal investment accounts.
"I've heard some say well it's risky to allow people to invest their own money," Mr. Bush said. It would be risky to put retirement money in the lottery, he said, but added, "It makes sense to try to get a better rate of return on your money if you expect there to be a Social Security system which is going broke."
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal for Tuesday's editions, Mr. Bush said he will try to provide political cover for those in Congress who support overhaul and make it politically risky to oppose.
"I think two of the things that are going to be important for the members to understand, once they've come to the realization there is a problem, is that no longer can they frighten seniors by saying, if we do this, seniors aren't going to get their checks," he said. "I think it's become pretty clear in people's minds that the issue ... does not revolve around those who have retired or those who are near retirement.
"The issue, really, is about younger workers and most younger workers believe that they're not going to see a dime unless something is done. And most younger workers, as far as I can tell, like the idea of being able to take some of their own money and managing for their own retirement, in order to more likely have the promise of Social Security fulfilled."
To drum up support for the president's plan, speeches are scheduled in the coming days by Vice President Dick Cheney; Treasury Secretary John Snow; Josh Bolten, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; and Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.
"Each of the speeches will focus on a critical aspect of Social Security and the need for strengthening it for future generations,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "The officials will talk about the importance of why it needs to be fixed and why we need to act on it now.''
Mr. Bush must persuade the Republican-controlled Congress to implement the most far-reaching changes to the system since its creation during the Great Depression. Though Republicans have increased their majority in both houses, changes would require 60 votes in the Senate.
To pay for investment accounts and make the system solvent, the White House is focusing on a plan that would change how future benefits are calculated by tying them to the inflation rate instead of wages over a person's lifetime. That could mean cuts in future promised benefits, since wages generally grow faster than inflation. The plan relies on investment accounts to make up the income difference.
Some Democrats accuse the White House of using scare tactics to muscle through what will be a costly overhaul. A White House memo e-mailed to influential conservatives last week said support must be built for the president's plan by convincing the public the system is "heading for an iceberg."