WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – President Bush (search) rallied congressional Republicans on behalf of his second-term program on Friday, saying that "we know how to set an agenda and work together to achieve it."
He also gave a brief preview of the State of the Union address he will deliver on Wednesday: "I will remind the country we're still at war. I want to thank the Congress for providing the necessary support for our troops who are in harm's way."
Bush spoke at a luncheon GOP retreat at a time when his proposal to add private investment accounts to Social Security (search) is coming under increasing fire, including from some Republican lawmakers present at the retreat.
The White House announced that Bush planned a two-day blitz next week after the speech to promote the Social Security plan, with stops in North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas and Florida.
When he gives the first State of the Union speech of his second term, Bush said, "I want to discuss ways to keep this recovery going so people can find work."
"I look forward to talking to the country about the need to address big reforms like Social Security," he added.
He did not dwell on that plan, but was expected to give more details in the State of the Union address.
After Bush's brief public remarks to the Republican lawmakers, he engaged in a closed-door question and answer session with the lawmakers.
Rep. David Dreier (search), R-Calif., said that the president's Social Security proposals were generally well received.
However, Dreier said that Republicans must emphasize the positive in trying to sell the plan to the country.
Republican sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in the private portion of the discussion, Bush invoked his twin 22-year-old daughters, Jenna and Barbara, as examples of the need to pass Social Security legislation. By the time they reach retirement age, the president was quoted as saying, the system will be bankrupt unless changes are made. According to administration estimates, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2042. After that, it is projected that about 73 percent of promised benefits can be paid.
While Bush was the headliner, the administration dispatched several senior officials to the weekend retreat of Republican lawmakers.
Two officials in attendance at the meetings said Karl Rove (search), Bush's senior political strategist, said on Friday night that no Republican incumbent member of Congress had lost a race for re-election in the past six years on the basis of Social Security.
Democrats have made clear their intention to use the issue in the 2006 midterm elections.
The sources who discussed the remarks made by Bush and Rove declined to be identified by name because they were delivered behind closed doors.
In an earlier closed-door session with House members, White House budget chief Joshua Bolten said Bush will also propose holding domestic programs — excluding homeland security — on an even tighter rein than this year.
Those programs, which Congress must approve annually, are scheduled to grow by less than 1 percent this year.
Bolten stressed the need to control popular benefit programs as well, lawmakers said. Benefits like Medicare and Medicaid are among the biggest, fastest-growing parts of the budget but are also widely popular and difficult for politicians to cut.
The lawmakers said Bolten provided no specifics about the savings Bush will propose in the 2006 budget he sends Congress on Feb. 7.
"They're very serious about deficit reduction. They're very serious about spending control," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, referring to administration officials. "I think we're joined in this goal."
In his speech, Bush said he was "kind of warming up for the State of the Union ... some verbal jumping jacks."
"I'll continue to articulate the faith-based agenda, the compassionate agenda, so people can find hope in our country," Bush said. "I'll remind the people we're a great nation. We can achieve anything we set our minds to."
Bush's proposal to add private stock and bond investment accounts to Social Security has drawn widespread Democratic opposition, as well as skepticism from more than a few Republicans.
It would allow younger workers to divert some of their Social Security taxes into private stock and bond investment accounts — in return for lower guaranteed future benefits.