ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentleman, the president of the United States. (Cheers and applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush was greeted by a loud and friendly audience of invited guests in Omaha, Nebraska this morning -- the same kind of reception he got yesterday in Fargo, North Dakota, and Great Falls, Montana.
Those are states the president won easily in the fall election, and this week they became starting points for his new campaign: to change Social Security.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You see, I believe one of my responsibilities is to travel our country talking about problems and how we intend to solve them, reminding people that the job of a president is to confront problems, not to pass them on to future generations and future presidents.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president went on to outline what he says the problem is.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Greater promises to more people who are living longer with fewer payers. That's a problem, particularly when you start doing the math.
The facts are, in 2018 that the amount of money going out of Social Security is greater than the amount of money coming into Social Security.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman Ben Cardin has been traveling as well, around his heavily Democratic district in Maryland. He didn't draw the big crowd the president did, but yesterday in the town of Odenton, Cardin did fill the community center with his promise to give constituents his own take on the president's Social Security plans.
REP. BEN CARDIN: Let me tell you, I disagree with the president. As your congressman, as your congressman, I think it's important for me to let you know how I feel.
But it's essential that everyone understands the facts about Social Security. If we understand the facts about Social Security, I believe this nation will make the right decision.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cardin first reminded his audience why President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress created Social Security.
REP. BEN CARDIN: Before we had Social Security, one out of every three Americans who were over the age of 65 lived in poverty; today that's less than 10 percent. Social Security has worked.
And it's important not just for people who are retired, not just for people who are disabled. It's important for young people; it's important for every American.
And we need to strengthen Social Security, not to fundamentally change Social Security.
KWAME HOLMAN: But changing Social Security is just what the president called for this morning in Omaha. And the biggest change would be the gradual transition to new personal retirement accounts.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: If you invest your money in conservative stocks and bonds, you're likely to get around a 4 percent rate of return, which is greater than double the money you're earning right now in the Social Security trust.
And over time, that means your own money will grow faster than that which is in the Social Security trust. In other words, you'll have more money when it comes time to retire. That's what that means. And that's an important concept.
KWAME HOLMAN: One woman told the president that if her late mother had been able to save money using a personal retirement account, the savings earned would be helping her today.
WOMAN: So that's the reason why I'm in so much support of this plan, because of the fact that once a person expires, their Social Security benefits will now go to their families and it won't be floating out there somewhere under a number.
And as I look at my situation, you know, being that I am currently a student, a doctoral student, and using my tuition money in order to help support my sister, this is bankrupting me.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And one of the benefits of personal accounts, a personal retirement account, is that you leave something behind for your children or grandchildren.
WOMAN: That's right.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And I think it's fair. I think there -- you know, there's a group, the life expectancy of certain folks in our country is less than others, and that makes the system unfair.
In other words, if you're dying earlier than expected, the money you put into the system simply goes to pay somebody else.
KWAME HOLMAN: Ben Cardin also discussed the personal accounts.
REP. BEN CARDIN: The president is suggesting that we take money out of the Social Security system to set up private accounts for younger workers.
These aren't changes that strengthen Social Security. This is carrying out an agenda to minimize the Social Security as your core basic retirement security.
KWAME HOLMAN: One woman said all the talk of accounts to benefit the individual bothered her. She said all generations had worked together under Social Security, but would no longer under the president's plan.
WOMAN: And in doing that, we lose the sense of the younger people and their needs, of those who are on disability and their needs. We get so concerned about "how am I going to get what I need?"
REP. BEN CARDIN: Social Security is called Social Security for a reason. The name is what it is. It is what we believe a collective responsibility that we have as a nation, to make sure that people who get hurt or disabled or families who have a death when there's young children, that they are protected.
And as people reach retirement, they have an economic safety net. That's what Social Security is about.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman Cardin told his constituents it might take some time for them to understand all the intricacies of the Social Security debate. President Bush admitted the same in Omaha and promised to continue explaining the problems of Social Security over the next several months.