WASHINGTON – President Bush stepped up his efforts to boost Republicans' political fortunes by headlining two big-money fundraisers Tuesday, criticizing Democrats during both stops.
At an evening congressional gala in Washington, Bush drew applause by calling for an overhaul of the tax code, a national energy bill (search) and permanent tax relief, among other things. He accused Democrats of trying to block all of them.
"They stand for nothing except obstruction, and this is not leadership," Bush said. "It is the philosophy of the stop sign, the agenda of the road block, and the country and our children deserve better."
The fundraiser brought in $14 million for House Republicans and $9 million for GOP senators. More than 5,000 people filled the Washington Convention Center (search) to hear Bush speak.
Swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (search) entertained the crowd before and after the dinner, which had a red, white and blue theme and images of Washington landmarks, including the White House, as the backdrop.
Among those attending the $2,500-per-ticket dinner was Mary Carey (search), a blond porn star who says she plans to run for lieutenant governor of California next year as an independent.
A few hours before the dinner, Carey met with reporters to show off her evening gown — black, floor-length — and talk about a Republican lunch she and her boss, adult film executive Mark Kulkis, attended where presidential adviser Karl Rove spoke.
In Pennsylvania earlier in the day, Bush helped raise $1.5 million for the re-election campaign of Sen. Rick Santorum, a favorite of the socially conservative movement who is a top target of Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections.
Bush also spoke at Pennsylvania State University with a clear message: Those who remain opposed to revising Social Security will suffer for it in the minds of the public.
"There are people in Washington, D.C., who care about the common good, that care about addressing problems," he told a convention of the Pennsylvania FFA, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America. "There are people in that nation's capital that have gone there for the right reason, to focus on the people's business and come up with solutions."
To modernize the government retirement program, Bush wants to replace some traditional Social Security benefits for younger workers with income from voluntary private investment accounts. And to address the program's long-term financial woes, Bush supports curtailing the benefits now promised to middle- and upper-income workers in the future.
Democrats have been nearly unanimously opposed to the private-accounts proposal and, facing skepticism from voters, some Republicans also are wary. Democrats also have been critical of Bush's cost-cutting approach.
Bush said that offering solutions, not just criticism, is lawmakers' duty.
"There are some of us in Washington, D.C., who do not want to leave you saddled with a retirement system that's going broke," he said.
For some in the president's audience, mostly high school students not old enough to vote, the subject of Social Security elicited blank stares.
"We're just excited to see the president," said Steph Smith.
The Santorum event, including the president's remarks, was held out of public view at the palatial home of real estate mogul Mitchell Morgan in the leafy, upscale Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr.
Santorum, a member of the Senate GOP leadership and a Bush ally, is running for re-election to a third term next year in a race that is expected to be one of the nation's toughest and most closely watched. A recent poll showed him trailing one of the better known Democratic hopefuls, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr.