Bush promotes reform

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 11, 2005

President George W. Bush was greeted like a rock star when he made his return to Montgomery on Thursday, with crowds shouting “We love you” and “I voted for Bush” as he walked onto the stage in the gym of Auburn University Montgomery.

The president came to Montgomery to promote his plan to strengthen the Social Security System by establishing personal retirement accounts.

In his “Conversation on Strengthening Social Security for the 21st Century,” Bush laid out the details of his plan to an estimated crowd of 4,000 people on the AUM campus.

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“Start thinking about the math. More people are living longer, have better benefits, and are not paying into Social Security,” Bush said. “There are only 3.3 workers for every Social Security beneficiary. By the time our youngest workers turn 65, there will be only two workers supporting each beneficiary.”

Under the President’s plan, personal retirement accounts would start gradually. Annual contributions to the account would be limited at first to $1,000 a year in 2009. The cap would rise over time, growing $100 per year, plus growth in average wages.

The private accounts, Bush said, would give workers ownership of the money, which could be passed on to children and grandchildren.

“Because of the compound rate of interest, your asset base will grow,” Bush said. “You can drawl from your account. There are lots of benefits to this idea. It’s a way to make sure Social Security will be there in the future.”

Bush said he liked the idea of people having control of their own accounts.

“I want people to say ‘I manage my own retirement account,'” Bush said.

The President further explained that those who are 55-years-old and older would not be affected by the changes to Social Security.

“For the 45 million Americans who receive Social Security benefits and millions more nearing retirement, their benefits are secure and will not change in any way,” he said.

Sitting beside the President on stage were five selected speakers-including two college seniors and their grandfathers-who agreed the Social Security System is headed toward bankruptcy and support Bush’s plan for reform.

George Moody, 22, a senior finance major at Auburn University, said he was concerned that Social Security would not be there by the time he retired.

“I know about finance, and at the rate of return we have now, I believe deficits are going to begin,” Moody said.

Moody’s grandfather, George Wood, 79, said he felt strongly that people should support the President’s proposal.

“Mr. President, I admire your foresight in taking this on now,” Wood told the President. “I felt you could have swept this under the rug for the next administration.”

Sitting on the opposite side to President Bush was Sarah Webster, owner and manager of a Montgomery-area funeral home.

After addressing her, Bush said, “I’m not going to ask you how business is going.”

Webster, 57, told the President that her sons are both big supporters of his plan and “want the opportunity to invest their own money for retirement.”

“Often times, I’ve seen people die,” Webster said. “And their family cannot receive their loved ones’ Social Security. Why would we allow someone else to have control over our own money? I think (President Bush’s) plan is bold and progressive.”

One local Selma resident who attended the President’s discussion on Social Security as William Bowman.

Bowman, an AUM alumni, said the school’s chancellor offered him two tickets to the event.

“First of all, I support what the President had to say,” Bowman said. “We have got to do something to invest in our future.”

After speaking on his Social Security plan, the President had some advice for the AUM students.

“I’m a C student. What does that tell you?” Bush said. “All you C students, don’t give up.”