WASHINGTON – Despite the stock market's recent roller coaster ride, President Bush is sticking by his proposal to allow younger workers to divert some of their Social Security funds taxes and other private investments.
"Clearly, young people are paying taxes in now for a Social Security system that is going bankrupt," presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
He spoke on a day that began when stock prices whiplashed, beginning with a slump but then turning around and rising sharply through midday.
Fleischer called stocks "a sound long-term way to get a higher rate of return."
In his 2000 campaign, Bush proposed a plan that would allow younger workers the option of diverting a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into private investments of their own choosing. Bush sent the plan to Congress, but it was widely viewed as a dead issue, given the market's nearly more than two-year decline.
When asked whether the president believed that Americans should still invest in stocks, given the biggest market slide in a generation over the past two years, Fleischer said that Bush still considered it "a matter of personal choice."
"The president believes in allowing people options so, at people's discretion, they can make the decisions that work for them. That would include markets," Fleischer said.
Then, turning to Bush's long-neglected proposal to allow Social Security funds to be privately invested, Fleischer said the president continues to believe that younger workers should have such an opportunity.
"Right now, under Social Security, they have the option of paying taxes and getting nothing in return," he said. Bush's plan would not affect retirement benefits of those already retired or nearing retirement.
Asked if Bush had become less bullish on stocks in light of the downturn, Fleischer said, "Nothing has changed his views in terms of the long-term soundness of the economy...all of which will ultimately drive markets."
Asked about the day's wild swing in stock prices, Fleischer said: "We do not and will not talk about day-to-day fluctuations in the stock market...up or down."
Over the past two weeks, Bush has spoken three times at length about the economy, suggesting economic fundamentals were strong despite the slide in stock prices. All three times, stock prices sunk after his remarks.