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Bush Brings Social Security Plan To Raleigh

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Jim Van Strien with bush
RALEIGH, N.C. — President George W. Bush spoke to a group at the BTI Center in downtown Raleigh Thursday morning about Social Security reforms.

Bush arrived at the center on schedule at 11 a.m. and began his speech to about 1,700 people shortly afterwards. He finished speaking to the group at about 12:25 p.m.

Before getting down to Social Security talk, Bush made a campaign-style speech that ranged from topics of Iraq to education and taxes.

The president said he ran twice on Social Security issues and believed "that candidates are rewarded, not punished, for taking on tough issues." He also said he wanted to "assure seniors that nothing changes."

President Bush's Social Security Plan

Bush wants to offer personal investment accounts to younger workers in return for scaled-back guaranteed retirement benefits. Bush acknowledges he'll have to work to win over skeptical lawmakers to support a position that has been called the "third rail" of politics.

During the event, Bush allowed several hand-picked people on stage with him to speak about Social Security. Later, he took several questions from the audience.

"I like to get out of Washington,'' Bush explained to the audience. "I like to talk to people. But I also know that when the people speak, people in the Congress listen. So I'm kind of sharing with you a little bit of my strategy about how to move this issue forward."

Bush has several goals at his Social Security events. He tries to convince people that the problem is urgent, while trying to reassure people over 55 that they will get their promised benefits. And he tries to get people to act by contacting their elected officials.

Three generations of Linwood Parker's family felt a need to be at Bush's speech.

"I want to make sure social security is still here for my daughter when it comes her time," he said.

Earlier, at RDU International Airport, Bush met briefly with area Republicans including new state auditor Les Merritt and new state agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler. Former Republican Sen. Jesse Helms was also at the airport when Bush arrived on Air Force One around 10:25 a.m.

Downtown, near the hall where Bush spoke, a group of about 100 protesters had gathered hours earlier. Standing behind a barricade, protesters chanted: "This is a moral fight. It's our future. It's our right.'' and "A town meeting with no dissent, what a cowardly president.''

AARP, the nation's largest advocacy group for older Americans, is lobbying against Bush's plan to allow younger workers to invest up to 4 percent of their wages in private accounts. They worry that will reduce the pool of money available to retirees drawing from the program during the next 10 years, said Bob Jackson, state director of AARP in North Carolina.

At RDU, Bush also met with Jim Van Strien, of Raleigh, who received the President's Volunteer Service Award. Bush presented the award to Van Strien, 72, because he gives his time to be an airport ambassador at RDU and was instrumental in bringing the USO lounge to the airport.

"This thing doesn't happen very often, and so when someone says, you're going to shake the hand of the president, it puts some butterflies in your stomach," Van Strien said.

Crews spent Wednesday sprucing up the grounds for the presidential visit.

The president's visit meant some bumps in the road for travelers Thursday. The FAA placed flight restrictions on private planes around RDU. On the ground, drivers had to deal with rolling roadblocks on I-40 for the presidential motorcade. Ramps on Interstate 40 were shut down as the president's motorcade passes by.

Later Thursday, Bush was traveling to Blue Bell, Pa., home state of Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who opposes cuts in promised benefits for future retirees. Bush has been traveling state-to-state, pressuring lawmakers who are wary of his plan in their own backyards.

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