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Inside Politics

Bush cites progress in Social Security debate

President says troops will leave when Iraqis fully trained
President Bush talks with reporters about Social Security, Iraq and other topics Wednesday.
George W. Bush
Oil and Gas

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush continued to shift the focus of the Social Security overhaul debate from personal accounts Wednesday, saying he had seen several interesting proposals to change the system.

At a wide-ranging White House news conference, Bush talked about his efforts to inform the American people about future problems with Social Security, rising oil prices, Iran and Iraq.

One of the proposals Bush cited is a plan by Robert Pozen, the chairman of MFS Investment Management, whom Bush described as a Democratic economist.

Pozen has suggested that calculation of benefits be tied to income levels and how much prices and/or wages increased each year. (Full story)

He also backed a plan for investment accounts, though at a smaller percentage of the payroll tax than the president's proposal.

Most Democrats are opposed to private accounts and say that Bush's plan would increase the deficit because of transition costs. They also say such accounts would do nothing for the solvency of Social Security.

"Personal accounts do not permanently fix the solution," Bush said. "They make the solution more attractive for the individual worker. And that's important for people to understand, and that's why it's very important for Congress to discuss this issue."

In a February 25 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 38 percent of respondents said they feel major changes must be made in Social Security within the next two years.

Bush still sounded positive that public sentiment would shift.

"I believe we're making progress of convincing the American people of two things," he said, "One, nothing will change for seniors -- those who've retired or near retirement; and secondly, that we must work together to make sure the system works for a younger generation of Americans."

Troops in Iraq

Bush said he believes Italy and other coalition countries will keep their troops in Iraq until the Iraqis can defend themselves.

The president said he spoke with Silvio Berlusconi earlier in the day about the Italian prime minister's announcement Tuesday that Italy would withdraw some of its forces from Iraq in September.

"First of all, he wanted me to know that there was no change in his policy -- that, in fact, any withdrawals would be done in consultation with allies and would be done depending upon the ability of Iraqis to defend themselves," Bush said.

Italy has about 3,000 troops in Iraq.

Bush reiterated that the United States will only withdraw troops after Iraqi forces are fully trained.

In Baghdad, the 275-member transitional National Assembly met Wednesday for the first time since being elected January 30.

Bush called it a "bright moment in what is a process toward the writing of a constitution, ratifying the constitution."

"It's a hopeful moment, I thought," Bush said. (Full story)

Oil concerns

The president, saying he is worried about oil prices, told reporters at the White House that Congress has yet to come up with a comprehensive energy plan.

His comments came as oil prices hit a record high after a report showed sharper-than-expected declines in petroleum-based product inventories.

Crude prices for April delivery reached $56.30, 63 cents above the previous record of $55.67 set last October, before retreating to $55.90, up 85 cents from Tuesday's settlement.

"I'm concerned about what it means to the average American family when they see the price of gasoline going up," he said. "I'm concerned what it means to small businesses."

Wolfowitz nomination

Bush said he believes that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the main advocates for the war in Iraq, would be a strong president of the World Bank. (Full story)

"I've said he was a man of good experience," Bush said. "He helped manage a large organization -- the World Bank is a large organization, the Pentagon's a large organization. He's been involved in the management of that organization."

Bush also called Wolfowitz a skilled diplomat who is committed to development.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, said Bush's selection of Wolfowitz is "hard to understand."

Other issues

  • Bush emphasized that the United States and its allies will use diplomacy to urge Iran to halt any plans to develop nuclear weapons. "And that's why I was so pleased to be able to participate with our friends France and Great Britain and Germany, to say to the Iranians, 'We speak with common voice,'" Bush said.
  • Bush said he would not second-guess Congress' investigation of steroids in baseball. "I do appreciate the public concern about the use of steroids in sport, whether it be baseball or anywhere else, because I understand that when a professional athlete uses steroids, it sends terrible signals to youngsters."
  • On Tom DeLay, who has been admonished twice by the House ethics committee: "I have confidence in Tom DeLay's leadership and I have confidence in Tom DeLay."

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