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No Letup In Social Security Battle

It's spring break, but there's no break in the Social Security debate.

Both sides are arguing their case across the nation, trying to command public opinion on the issue as proposals begin to germinate on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, President Bush was in Tucson, Arizona repeating his mantra that Social Security benefits will still be sent to retirees and those soon to retire. "This United States government will keep our promise to people retired or near retirement," Mr. Bush said.

While Mr. Bush worked to ally fears about proposed changes in Social Security, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., bluntly accused Democrats of not working toward a bipartisan solution.

"I say to our Democrat friends: 'Come and sit down at the table and let us work together to save the safety net for future generations of Americans. The door is open to the White House and on the Republican side of the aisle.'

"We must do this together," McCain said, his voice growing louder with each word. "We know how much money is coming in. We know how much money is going out. Does anybody believe we should wait — we should wait until there's no money that we have to cut off people's Social Security checks?"

Vice President Dick Cheney is on the road too, hosting town hall meetings Monday and Tuesday in Bakersfield, Calif., and Reno, Nev. His trip is part of an administration push to support the chairmen of congressional committees that will produce a bill. Mr. Bush heads out next month to Iowa to do the same with Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Democrats, meanwhile, are spending the two-week Easter break in their districts, trying to rally grass-roots opposition to Mr. Bush's proposed changes. They are holding town hall meetings, press conferences and working with opposition groups to organize counter-events at stops along Mr. Bush's Social Security road tour.

"We're not going to let him define the debate," said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"We're going to challenge him at every step," he said, adding that Democrats want the American public to understand that future benefits will have to be cut and that borrowing to fix Social Security's solvency problems will expand the federal deficit, which already is at record levels.

A few hundred protesters greeted Mr. Bush at the convention center in Tucson. Many held signs with anti-war messages. But some — such as "Social Security: Not Securities" and "Bush: Don't Gamble with Our Future" — focused on the issue of the day.

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