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Inside Politics

Bush pushes Social Security, energy ideas

President backs two-tier benefit increases

President Bush speaks to reporters at Thursday night's news conference.
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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush told reporters that he backs a Social Security proposal in which benefits for low-income workers would increase faster than those for wealthier Americans, saying that would solve most of the system's funding problems.

"This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security," he said Thursday night during an hour-long news conference.

Bush also discussed his energy proposals and answered questions on North Korea, Iraq, terrorism and the No Child Left Behind Act. (Transcript)

Bush said that under Social Security plan, people born before 1950 would not see any changes in their benefits. He also repeated his support for personal retirement accounts for younger workers. For those leery of investing in stocks, Bush said one option for those workers would be to purchase government treasury bonds.

"I feel very strongly that there has to be personal savings accounts as part of the Social Security system."

"The longer we wait, the most expensive a solution is going to be for younger Americans," the president said. (Full storyexternal link)

On the energy issue, Bush said his administration "is doing everything we can" to fight high gasoline prices and urged Congress to get an energy bill to his desk by "this summer."

"There will be no price gouging at gas pumps in America," he said.

The president's second-term agenda has encountered some resistance in Congress, and his approval rating has dropped in recent opinion polls.

"I'm not surprised that some are balking at doing hard work," he said.

He recognized that soaring gas prices are hurting millions of families and small businesses, but admitted that the U.S. government alone is unable to solve the problem.

If oil-producing nations can be encouraged to maximize crude oil production, that would ease prices, he said. And energy consumption, which is growing 40 times faster than oil production, must be curtailed through better technology and innovative ways to use coal, natural gas and nuclear power. (Full story)

'Relentless' terror fight

On international affairs, Bush said he has invited new Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to come to the United States.

Iraq's transitional National Assembly earlier in the day chose a new government following three months of political wrangling in the wake of the January 30 elections. (Full story)

Bush said Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network has been "severely diminished" and that the United States is making good progress in the war on terror.

"We will stay on the offense," he said. "We will be relentless."

A State Department report issued Wednesday said the fight against international terrorism remains "formidable" for the United States and its allies. (Full story)

Bush also addressed Russia's ties with Syria and Iran, two nations the State Department report cited as being "of special concern" among countries that sponsor terrorism.

Bush expressed displeasure with Russia's decision to sell "vehicle-mounted weaponry" to Syria.

"We're working closely with the Russians on the issue," he said. "We didn't appreciate that, but we made ourselves clear." (Full story)

Bush said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "trying to help" by taking an active role in Iran's nuclear energy program.

Bush said engagement in six-party talks remains the best way to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.

"Our aim is to solve this problem diplomatically," he said.

Three rounds of nuclear talks have been held since 2003 with no breakthrough.

Nominees pushed

Bush restated his support for his nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, saying John Bolton "isn't afraid to speak his mind" and is the right person for the job.

"John Bolton is a blunt guy," he said. "John Bolton can get the job done at the United Nations."

The Foreign Relations Committee postponed a vote on Bolton's nomination last week after a Republican member, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, joined Democrats in asking for more time to investigate fresh allegations about the nominee's past conduct. (Full story)

The president also called for the Senate to act on his controversial appellate court nominees.

"They deserve an up-or-down vote," he said.

Democratic opposition is preventing a Senate vote on seven of Bush's 215 nominees to federal judgeships.

Bush said he believed the nominees have been opposed "because of judicial philosophy" and not as "an issue of faith." (Full story)

Democrats respond

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, criticized the president's Social Security proposal.

"The president threw down the gauntlet," Harkin said on CNN's "Larry King Live." "He said that any Social Security plan has to have private accounts. That's a nonstarter here."

"The American people are really picking up on this," he said. "They understand that this president really doesn't believe in Social Security."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he was "very disappointed in what the president said on energy."

"The big problem is rising gasoline prices; he didn't deal with that," the Democrat said.

"Secondly, we need an Apollo-like project to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and he certainly didn't do that."

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