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Social Security Reform, Redux

President Bush encouraged a Republican senator on Tuesday to offer Social Security legislation that would not include private investment accounts. The White House said the president still was committed to allowing workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes.

Mr. Bush's nod to Utah Sen. Bob Bennett's plan comes as public polls show that most Americans do not support the president's handling of the Social Security issue. Congress has been deadlocked on it.

A senior White House official tells CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante that the president has absolutely not dropped his support for private accounts. What he's doing is tossing a bone to Democrats. And if they don't support the bill without private accounts, the White House will slam them as obstructionists, Plante reports.

Bennett said that during a luncheon with other Republican senators at the White House, he told the president of his plans to introduce the bill as early as next week.

"He indicated that I should go forward and do that," Bennett said. "And I'm grateful to have him do that even though his own preference would be to have personal accounts included."

Bennett plans to introduce a bill including an idea the president has already embraced: indexing future benefits so that they would be reduced for middle and upper income workers, while making no cuts in benefits for the bottom thirty percent of earners. The retirement age for full benefits, already increasing gradually to 67 and now scheduled to be phased in by 2022, would be moved forward to 2012.

The White House said the president is encouraging all members of Congress to offer their ideas to make the Social Security system solvent.

"This in no way should be interpreted to mean that the president is backing off of personal accounts," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. "He is not."

Since the beginning of his second term, President Bush has been pushing to allow younger workers to create voluntary personal accounts funded out of their Social Security payroll taxes. Democrats accuse the White House of seeking to privatize the Depression-era program and have been unified in opposition to the idea.

"I've decided that the Democrats have made it clear that they will not back personal accounts," Bennett said outside the White House. "And in response to the president's position that 'Let's try to get something done,' I will be proposing a bill that does not include personal accounts."

Bennett said some Democrats have told him privately that they would support such a bill, but he is not sure how many will be on board publicly now that he's introducing the legislation. He said he is looking for Democrats to co-sponsor the bill, but he didn't have any to announce Tuesday.

"We've had a lot of interest," he said. "We have a lot of hope that we can use this bill to break the logjam and move forward on Social Security. We'll find out in the weeks to come."

Bennett said when he told President Bush of his plans, "He just said, 'I like your bill.' Period."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan responded: "The president, as he has indicated previously, welcomes all ideas for moving forward to save and strengthen Social Security. Nothing has changed in terms of his belief that voluntary personal accounts are an important part of any solution."

Mr. Bush and other supporters of private investment accounts argue they are needed to modernize the program. Under current projections, Social Security will begin to pay out more in benefits than it receives in tax receipts in 2017, and the trust funds will be depleted in 2041. At that point, benefits would be cut to adjust for the reduction in available funds.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll earlier this month found 37 percent of Americans support Bush's handling of Social Security, while 59 percent disapprove. Those numbers hadn't budged after more than four months of the president barnstorming the U.S. to sell his plan.