ATLANTA – His mother at his side, President Bush on Friday sought to rekindle interest in his languishing Social Security (search) restructuring plan, marketing it as part of a "Senior Security" package.
Calling his mother, Barbara Bush, "my favorite senior citizen," Bush said that the new prescription drug program under Medicare (search) — which takes effect in January — would benefit nearly every one who signed up.
"It's a good deal," Bush said.
He also vowed that nothing in his Social Security proposal would reduce benefits for current retirees or those close to retiring. "Seniors have nothing to worry about...What you should be worried about is whether your grandchildren are going to get any checks," Bush said.
Bush and the former first lady first visited a senior center here to thank volunteers who are helping explain the new benefit program to future beneficiaries.
Then he promoted his Social Security plan, his top domestic priority, before an invitation-only audience of supporters in a civic center.
Despite crisscrossing the state to promote the plan, Bush has had little success in building public support for his plan.
His proposal would allow younger workers to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into private investment accounts (search) in exchange for a reduction in future guaranteed benefits. He has also called for measures to guarantee Social Security's long-term solvency (search) by reducing some future benefits for higher-income workers.
Bush's trip came the same week in which House and Senate leaders threw in the towel on trying to get committee action on the legislation before the August congressional recess.
They cited the press of other business, including energy legislation and a Central American free trade (search) pact. But Bush's plan faced solid Democratic opposition and a substantial amount of GOP skepticism.
At the Wesley Woods senior center, Bush and his mother, did a tag-team pitch for the benefits of the new prescription drug plan, part of a Medicare restructuring enacted in December 2003.
To her son's introduction of her as his "favorite senior citizen," Mrs. Bush chortled and noted that Bush himself is "almost 60 years old" and close to being one himself. He turned 59 earlier this month.
Later, at the civic center speech, Mrs.Bush, 80, also noted that her son's hair was turning white. "You can see where I got my white hair from," the president retorted.
Barbara Bush told her son she was proud of him, and that he looked good in the brown suit he was wearing. "You turn 80, and you run out of things to say," Bush said, bringing some groans from the audience.
He then won applause when he gold his mother she indeed had "a lot to say."
Bush talked up the plan, then his mother interrupted to ask him if he hadn't also meant to suggest that seniors "ask their doctors and lawyers — people they trust — why this is a good deal for them?"
"It will save them money" Barbara Bush said.
The president nodded, and added: "And save their lives."
Afterwards, Bush said he and his mother would go around the room and shake hands. "You go that way," said his mother, pointing to the right. "She's still telling me what to do," Bush said, going dutifully to the right.
In his civic center speech, Bush expressed concern that the benefits of the plan may not be initially appreciated by many of the 42 million eligible Americans who receive Medicare benefits.
"I understand. A lot of citizens just don't want to change," Bush said.
Starting Oct. 1, information about the program will be available to seniors, as well as people with developmental and physical disabilities, mental illnesses or HIV/AIDS.
Enrollment starts Nov. 15.
Low income seniors — individuals earning less than $15,000 a year or couples earning less than $19,000 — would have roughly 95 percent of their prescription drug costs (search) covered under the plan.