WASHINGTON – Though the idea of personal accounts for Social Security (search) lost some ground in recent opinion polls, President Bush isn't backing down an inch. He conceded Thursday that he has a lot more work to do to sell his ideas, but said his effort is only beginning.
"I do believe we're making progress on the first stage of getting anything complicated and difficult done in Washington, and that is to explain the problem," Bush told reporters during a question and answer period during a visit to the CIA.
Majorities in many polls agree that something must be done to fix Social Security, but support for the president's plan to allow young workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes into personal investment accounts varies by age group.
According to a FOX News-Opinion Dynamics poll released Thursday, a majority of young people — 65 percent — favor the idea. On the opposite side, 56 percent of those surveyed over age 55 oppose it.
In the president's view, admitting that a problem exists is a first step toward fixing it.
"People are beginning to say, 'We have a problem.' The next phase ... is going to be, 'What are you going to do about it?' And I am willing to put out some ideas about what to do about it," Bush said.
The president's proposal to allow personal accounts to help cushion the individual against inevitable benefit cuts admittedly does not solve the matter of the growing insolvency of the system. Bush has not yet offered a proposal for that, but he is looking at a series of plans, which range from raising the top wage at which payrolls are taxed to indexing benefit increases to the rise in the price of goods.
In the meantime, his opponents have trumpeted news reports suggesting Republicans don't support Bush on Social Security, such as a Des Moines Register headline claiming Sen. Charles Grassley (search) of Iowa is backing off from personal accounts.
After reading the headline, the Democratic National Committee took Grassley's position one step further, proclaiming he is putting the brakes on the Bush plan. But Grassley said the headline is wrong.
"The same article says that I support personal accounts. I've supported personal accounts since I joined a bipartisan bill in 1991 when [former President] Clinton said that Social Security was in crisis and save Social Security first," the senator said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search ) of Tennessee on Thursday also corrected the record after a remark he made got big play in newspapers. Articles quoted Frist saying that legislation on personal accounts may not come to the Senate floor until next year. Frist's original comment was that it could be a "a week, a month, six months or a year" before legislation gets a vote.
"This president and this Congress are facing this challenge and the challenge is to fix Social Security for seniors, for near retirees, and for the next generation. We need to do it and we will do it this year. Not next year, but this year," Frist said on the Senate floor.
According to the FOX News poll, 40 percent of respondents say personal accounts are a good idea, while 47 percent say they're not. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (search ) made clear that opponents have no intention of letting up and will continue to hold town hall meetings to increase opposition to the plan.
Officials and Republican members of Congress acknowledge the opponents have seized the initiative and dented support for personal accounts. With that in mind, administration officials are striking back with their own campaign — 60 stops in 60 days. Bush was making two appearances on Friday.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.