ALBEQUERQUE, N.M. – President Bush and Sen. John McCain (search) put on another showing Tuesday of their good-cop, bad-cop routine on Social Security (search), trying to prod Democrats into cooperating with rather than opposing the president's drive to create private accounts within the system.
Bush emphasized the positive, continuing to assure current and near-retirees their benefits would not change under his plan and promising that credit would be duly shared if Washington politicians can come together to fix Social Security's long-term fiscal ills.
"Bring your ideas forward, please," the president told a mostly darkened auditorium here. "If we're going to solve this problem, it's not going to be a Republican idea or a Democratic idea. It's going to be an American idea."
McCain, after speaking glowingly of "the pride I feel in this president," had a less conciliatory message for Democrats in Congress, whom he accused of being obstructionist and shortsighted.
"Some of our friends who are opposing this idea say, 'Oh, you don't have to worry until 2042.' We wait until 2042 when we stop paying people Social Security? That's not what this is all about," he said. "Please urge our Democrat friends to come to the table and sit with us and do this for the greater good of the United States of America. ... This issue isn't shouldn't have anything to do with partisan politics."
He also aimed some of his "straight talk" at AARP (search), the powerful lobby for older citizens that opposes Bush's plan to allow younger workers to divert a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into personal accounts that could be invested in the stock market in trade for reduced guaranteed benefits.
The group is running television and radio ads during the two-week Easter break while members of Congress are back in their home districts.
"I want to say to our friends in AARP ... come to the table with us — we not only have an obligation to seniors, we have an obligation to future generations," McCain said.
The Arizona Republican, Bush's one-time presidential rival who has become a big booster of his Social Security plans, also played the heavy as he accompanied the president on Monday to the senator's home state and Colorado and tried to help sell a skeptical public on the private accounts idea.
McCain had been scheduled to drop off Bush's itinerary after those events, but it all went so well that he scratched that and came to Albuquerque as well.
The original reason for the Albuquerque stop was to give a boost to Republican New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici.
Vice President Dick Cheney was doing his part, hosting town hall meetings Monday and Tuesday in Bakersfield, Calif., and Reno, Nev.
Bush has started pairing his "conversation" events before large crowds with visits to senior centers to try to reassure retirees gathered in small groups about their benefits. He did so again on Tuesday, stopping at the Bear Canyon Senior Center where a few dozen seniors were having breakfast.
By Tuesday afternoon, Bush was to be back at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, with meetings scheduled there for Wednesday with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. He was to remain in Texas for an Easter break until March 28.