FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Facing stiff resistance, President Bush began searching state-by-state for support for his plan to overhaul Social Security and conceded yesterday that not all lawmakers believe the program has a serious problem.

“The math doesn’t work,” Bush insisted, saying Social Security would pay out more money than it brought in beginning in 2018. “And in 2042, it’s bust,” he said. That’s the year in which the system would be able to cover only about 73 percent of benefits owed unless it is changed, according to Social Security trustees.

Bush spoke at the Bison Sports Arena at North Dakota State University, the first stop on a two-day, five-state trip to try to build support for diverting some Social Security revenues into private investment accounts for younger workers. The initiative would reduce guaranteed retirement benefits but create the possibility of bigger checks from stock market investments.

“We’re not going to play politics with the issue,” Bush said. “We’re going to say, `If you’ve got a good idea, come forth with your idea.’ Because now is the time to put partisanship aside and focus on saving Social Security for young workers.”

But politics played a part in his trip to North Dakota and Montana on Thursday and Nebraska, Arkansas and Florida on Friday. Each state is represented in the Senate by at least one Democrat who GOP strategists believe might back Bush’s Social Security makeover plan.

“You take what the president said in his address last night, he’s talking about more tax cuts, more spending, more borrowing for private accounts,” Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.) said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t add up.”

Conrad said at least five Republican senators have approached him in the last 10 days looking to form a bipartisan group that can offer an alternative to the president’s politically risky proposal.

“The plan that’s been outlined, they know it can’t pass,” Conrad said.

In outlining his plan Wednesday night in his State of the Union address, Bush said private accounts would provide younger workers with retirement money above the check they’d get from Social Security, but he didn’t mention that the check would be smaller.


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