WASHINGTON – President Bush told the nation's governors that he knows many are wondering why he's taken on the politically risky issue of Social Security (search) and he plans on going to their states to explain it to them as well as their constituents.
But in a wide-ranging meeting at the White House (search) on Monday, Bush gave them his short answer.
"You've got baby boomers fixing to retire who are living longer, who've been made a bigger promise than the previous generation and the government can't afford it," he said.
In fact, by the time today's college students retire, the trust fund will be exhausted and the system will only be able to pay about 70 percent of promised benefits:
"There's not enough workers contributing in the system. And we need to do something about it now," he said.
Bush argues that past fixes by Congress -- increasing Social Security taxes, raising the retirement age and other measures -- have only been incremental and not solved the long-term problems.
One supporter of the president said tax increases will be almost impossible in the future because even with increases, there won't be enough workers to support retirees.
"Social Security was designed when we had 43 workers per retiree. Now we're down to three. Soon it will be two. Nobody can argue, honestly, that there is not a problem," said Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla.
With only two people paying taxes to support every retiree, any tax increase would be an enormous burden, Shaw and others argue. That's why the president says he wants to confront the issue now.
"I'm looking forward to this debate. I think this is a healthy use of our time in Washington, to see big problems and come together and fix them," Bush told the governors.
During the meeting, a hint suggested that some bipartisan thinking is beginning to emerge. Two senators, one Democrat, one Republican, in attendance said they're looking for something that members of both parties can support:
"Whatever works is going to have to have Democratic and Republican support and if they will, then we're willing to stick our necks out and go and get this done," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (search), R-Utah.
Sen. Ron Wyden (search) also embraced a key point -- the need to help people save for their retirement.
"I very much feel that we need a savings revolution in this country, particularly as it relates to young people. We've got millions of our citizens who have no private pension, no opportunity to save, modest kind of income," Wyden, D-Ore., said.
Though few Democrats have been willing even to consider personal investment accounts (search) inside Social Security, several including Wyden are expressing interest in add-on accounts.
"If we could on a bipartisan basis look at an initiative to promote private savings that would supplement Social Security, I think we could then see both political parties beginning to come together," Wyden said.
Like any problem, admitting one exists is half the battle. Treasury Secretary John Snow (search) argued Monday that Bush's focus on the issue has ignited a broad national dialogue and shifted the discussion from whether there is a problem to how to fix it.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.