President Bush signaled Thursday he is not ready yet to reveal how he would fix Social Security's looming insolvency, saying he has to first persuade people there is a problem.
"I got a lot more time to tell people that there is a problem," Mr. Bush said in a speech to newspaper editors.
The president also exhorted Congress to "get off the dime" and pass a comprehensive energy plan.
Mr. Bush spoke to the American Society of Newspaper Editors after a Republican lawmaker called him to disclose precisely how he would fix the retirement program's inevitable insolvency problem.
Mr. Bush said that some members of Congress would rather not tackle Social Security because it is a politically sensitive subject. He said the political consequences would be worse if lawmakers failed to address the problem.
After his address, Mr. Bush answered questions and made these points:
Mr. Bush has talked for weeks about his proposal to create a system of private investment accounts for Social Security but has acknowledged that those accounts would not solve the program's financial problems. He has not said how he would address the insolvency issue but has invited members of Congress to propose solutions.
The president met with House GOP members to talk about Social Security, part of an ongoing series of discussions. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., said he told Mr. Bush "the time has come where we've got to start to put some specifics out there about how we're going to fix the solvency of it."
But Kolbe said the president might not be prepared to do that, yet.
"He does understand that at some point we have to start talking about the specifics," Kolbe said. "I think that he may just not be ready to be there yet."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Kolbe's conversation with Mr. Bush about when more specifics would be publicly discussed was "more of a general discussion" about the phases of educating the public about the problem.
He said Mr. Bush talked with lawmakers about the importance of finding a permanent fix to Social Security and how to get it done this year. "There is some discussion about when do you do that and the president said `Well, we're still in this phase now of educating the American people about the problems facing Social Security' and at some point we'll be focusing more on solutions and the way to get this done through Congress."
"Congress hasn't even begun hearings at this point to consider legislation." McClellan said. "They will begin those soon."
Social Security takes in more in payroll taxes than it disburses in benefits to about 47 million retirees. But that trend is projected to end in 2017 amid the retirement of the baby boom generation. By 2041, the system will have exhausted a trust fund built up to continue paying full retiree benefits. Then, according to program analysts, payroll taxes will be able to cover only about 72 percent of promised benefits.