Bush outlines second-term goals
Blitz to sell politically risky remake of Social Security blasts off today.
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The President did not say what a senior administration official admitted to reporters at a background briefing Wednesday afternoon - namely that personal accounts by themselves would not improve the Social Security system's solvency. Fixing a shortfall estimated to be at least $3.7 trillion would require steps like those the president said were "on the table" including benefit reductions for the wealthy, raising the retirement age, or changing how benefits are calculated to make them less generous.Skip to next paragraph
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Democrats got a running start on their response to the president in a what was called a "pre-buttal" when House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid spoke to reporters at the National Press Club Monday. In a televised appearance after the president spoke Wednesday evening, Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi hammered him on both domestic and foreign policy.
"The Bush plan isn't really Social Security reform," Sen. Reid said. "It's more like Social Security roulette."
Rep. Pelosi, called Sunday's elections in Iraq "a significant step toward Iraqis taking their future into their own hands. Now we must consider our future in Iraq." The California Democrat added, "The United States cannot stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to be viewed as an occupying force. Neither should we slip out the back door, falsely declaring victory but leaving chaos."
Seeking to counter Republican criticism that Democrats are partisan obstructionists, Reid said, "I want you to know that when we believe the president is on the right track, we won't let partisan interests get in the way of what's good for the country." But he added, "when he gets off track, we will be there to hold him accountable."
Members of both parties think that the president's domestic agenda - including Social Security reform and limiting what Bush calls "junk lawsuits" - could help reshape the country's political landscape and might lead to a generation of Republican dominance.
A recent leaked White House memo talked about the battle over Social Security as one that "can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country." The private accounts at the heart of the president's speech are aimed creating what he calls an "ownership society." Republicans hope - and Democrats fear - that newly created "owners" will be more likely to vote Republican. Similarly, tort reform could hurt trial lawyers who have been longterm financial supporters of Democrats, thus helping stunt the party's fund-raising efforts.
Of course, the State of the Union address is part policy speech, part spectacle. Before the president arrived at the heavily fortified Capitol, lots of ladies in fur could be seen wandering the halls of Congress. Some of the fur was draped across the shoulders of the more elegant invitees to candlelight buffets in rooms across the Capitol.
Security was heavy with German shepherds giving the halls and corridors where the President and members of Congress would pass just one last sniff.
Republicans in the hall sought to remind television viewers of Sunday's elections in Iraq, the best news on the foreign front this administration has had since the Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad.
Placed discreetly behind a pillar in the Speaker's lobby just off the House floor: a plastic bowl of deep Aurora Liquid Tempura ink and piles of cleanup wipes. Freshman Rep. Bobb Jindall (R) of Louisiana, sent an e-mail to all 434 other members urging them to stain a finger before going into the speech tonight. "It's a symbolic gesture of solidarity," with the Iraqi people, he said.
So during key portions of the speech, Republican members could be seen waving their ink-stained fingers in support of the president.
Note: Gail Chaddock contributed to this story from Capitol Hill. Material from the Associated Press was used in preparing this account.