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Bush Plan Would Cut Benefits

President Bush put a populist face on his Social Security plan by urging Congress to tilt the system to benefit low-income retirees, but Democrats pounced on the fact that benefits would be reduced for future middle and upper income retirees.

At a prime-time news conference Thursday night, Mr. Bush said he envisioned a plan under which all future retirees could "count on a benefit equal to or higher than today's seniors."

"If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty," Mr. Bush promised.

Republicans officials had said in advance of the news conference that the president would prod lawmakers to embrace a plan that would curtail benefits for middle and upper income retirees of the future, but the president did not mention that part of his plan.

CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports that the president's idea to reduce future benefits for middle class retirees, but not for poorer ones is not likely to go over very well with either party.

Nearing the end of a 60-day campaign for Social Security overhaul, Mr. Bush also renewed his call for Congress to pass Social Security legislation that allows younger workers to create private investment accounts with a portion of their payroll taxes. But as CBS News White House Correspondent John Roberts reports, despite the publicity blitz - polls show support for his Social Security plan slipping.

The president said he knew "some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market." He proposed that one investment option consist entirely of treasury bonds, "which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government."

Mr. Bush's plan immediately drew renewed fire from Democrats.

The president would "gut benefits for middle-class families," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said in a joint statement.

They reiterated their opposition to Mr. Bush's desire to let younger workers divert some of their Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts.

"All the president did was confirm that he will pay for his risky privatization scheme by cutting the benefits of middle-class seniors," Pelosi and Reid said.

The president addressed an array of topics in the White House conference:

Gas Prices
The President pledged his effort to address

. "There will be no price gouging at gas pumps in America," he said. The House has approved energy legislation, and a companion measure is awaiting action in the Senate. Bush said he wanted a bill on his desk by summer.

Mr. Bush said he is pressing Iraq's incoming prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to refrain from tinkering with the structure of the Iraqi security force that the U.S. military is creating and training. Bush called that possibility "one of the real dangers" as Iraq transitions to an independent democracy. "Keep stability, don't disrupt the training that has gone on," Bush said he has told al-Jaafari. "Don't politicize your military, in other words. Have them there to help secure the people."

Energy Proposal
CBS News Correspondent John Roberts asked Mr. Bush if his proposed energy plan would alleviate high gas prices. "It would have 10 years ago," Mr. Bush said, explaining that gas prices are due to U.S. dependence on foreign oil. "And now we find ourselves in the fix we're in." President Bush said the best way to affect U.S. gasoline prices is to encourage oil-rich nations to put more crude oil on the market, which is exactly what he was doing when meeting with Saudi crown prince Abdullah last week.

Judiciary Nominations
Mr. Bush urged the Senate to take "up or down" votes on his controversial nominees to the appeals courts. Democrats filibustered 10 of his first-term appeals court nominees, blocking confirmation votes on them. Bush has renominated seven of the 10, and Democrats have threatened to attempt to block them once more.

Faith is a personal issue, Mr. Bush said. Although it plays an "important" role in his life individually, he doesn't think it plays a part in how Congress receives his judicial nominations. Multiple questions by reporters speculated about the possible faith/justice relationship.

Washington Atmosphere
Mr. Bush says he's been disappointed with the political atmosphere in Washington. He says there's a lot of politics -- that you can't cooperate with "so and so" because they make their party look good. Even so, Bush says in the end his administration will get a lot done.

Russia's Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Syria came under fire. "We didn't appreciate that," he said, "but we made ourselves clear." The two men are scheduled to meet in Moscow early next month.

The president said the nation needs to use technology to become better at conserving energy. He also says the nation needs to develop innovative and "environmentally sensitive" ways of making the most of existing energy sources. Additionally, Bush says the nation needs to develop "promising new sources of energy" and help nations that are growing energy consumers to find new technology to use energy more efficiently.

North Korea
Mr. Bush called North Korea's Kim Jong Il a tyrant when asked about multi-lateral talks with the country. "I felt the bilateral approach didn't work. I thought a better approach would be to include people in the neighborhood," Mr. Bush said, meaning other countries, "especially China."

U.N. Nominee John Bolton
"John Bolton is a blunt guy," President Bush said. "Some people say I'm too blunt." Mr. Bush said Bolton's attitude could serve him well and promote reform in the United Nations, which he backs.

The White House hoped the president's prime-time performance would help to build popular support for his Social Security proposal. But he still has a major sales job in front of him in order to win enough popular and congressional support to win passage of the plan.

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