Bush Resumes Social Security Push

President Bush focused on his proposals for reforming Social Security during a trip to Rochester, N.Y., Tuesday. The president has worked to distance himself from events on Capitol Hill, including the recent filibuster battle.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Bush is welcoming the Senate's plan to vote on Judge Priscilla Owen.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Judge Owen is finally going to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. And she is my friend, and more importantly, she's a great judge.

INSKEEP: As the president spoke yesterday, Owen herself was standing beside him in a White House appearance for the cameras. The agreement to vote on some, though not all seven, of the president's most controversial nominees frees lawmakers to consider other issues. One of those issues is the president's plan to change Social Security, which he promoted again as he traveled yesterday. NPR's David Greene followed along on a visit to upstate New York.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The morning after the filibuster deal was struck in the Senate, President Bush waved to a cluster of reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, boarded Air Force One and was off to Greece. That's a small town outside Rochester, New York. In a high school auditorium, he sat onstage on a stool and told his audience that he likes getting out of the nation's capital to update Americans on the Social Security debate.

Pres. BUSH: I like getting out of Washington to begin with. I like explaining the situation.

GREENE: Before he began an event that lasted just under an hour, Mr. Bush said he did have some other business to touch on.

Pres. BUSH: We got a lot to do in Washington, DC. One of the big issues, of course, is Social Security, although yesterday there was some progress made. I'm pleased that the Senate is moving forward on my judicial nominees who were previously being blocked.

GREENE: The president stayed on that topic for less than half a minute, then got back to his message. In the past, he's shown that the presidential agenda can be reshuffled. He cut short a trip to Texas to intervene in the case of Terry Schiavo when Republicans were trying to keep the Florida woman alive. But in the case of the filibuster debate, Mr. Bush has worked to distance himself from events on Capitol Hill. He continued doing that yesterday when he spent the morning onstage getting to know people from the Rochester area.

Pres. BUSH: You are Audrey Saglinski(ph).

Ms. AUDREY SAGLINSKI: That's right.

Pres. BUSH: And...

Ms. SAGLINSKI: I'm a 70-year-old widow...

Pres. BUSH: Don't ever say your age--oh, yeah.

Ms. SAGLINSKI: Oh, I have no problem. Don't ask me my weight, though.

Pres. BUSH: OK.

GREENE: Moments later, the president returned to Saglinski's age. He was trying to use her as an example of someone who will continue to get Social Security checks no matter how long they live.

Pres. BUSH: You look great.

Ms. SAGLINSKI: Thank you very much.

Pres. BUSH: You look like a hundred to me. That's where you're going to be.

Ms. SAGLINSKI: Oh, OK.

Pres. BUSH: Thirty more years.

Ms. SAGLINSKI: I'll remind you of that.

Pres. BUSH: All right, good.

GREENE: No matter what's happening in Washington, Social Security events pop up often on the president's schedule. He's been consumed by the issue for some time. Back in March in Arizona, he said he planned to plug away at it.

Pres. BUSH: I'm going to keep talking about it. I know the senators are going to keep talking about it. You talk about it. You talk about it to your friends and neighbors. This is an issue that the American people will help decide the future on this issue. I'm absolutely convinced of it.

GREENE: And a month later in South Carolina.

Pres. BUSH: I'm just starting. I'm just warming up. Matter of fact, I like getting out of Washington, DC.

GREENE: And then a month later in Greece, New York.

Pres. BUSH: The American people expect those of us who are fortunate enough to serve in Washington to solve problems. And I've just begun.

GREENE: President Bush returns often to the theme of a new beginning, both for Social Security itself and for his campaign on behalf of private accounts within the program. Mr. Bush began his 60-day campaign for his changes 84 days ago. But as Memorial Day nears, he's still crisscrossing the country. Polls show there's little enthusiasm for his specific ideas so far. Then again, polls show Americans are far more interested in the future of Social Security than they are in the filibuster flap. Mr. Bush told his audience yesterday that when Congress takes up Social Security, he's confident bipartisanship will prevail. And then he wrapped up the event.

Pres. BUSH: Listen, thank you all for coming. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless our country.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: And then he left quickly, bound to return to the city he says he loves to leave. David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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