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Bush Pitches Plan to Hispanics

Boosting Financial Literacy Will Aid Investing, He Says

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2005; Page A06

Even though his 60-day campaign to promote his Social Security plan ended over the weekend without attracting much public -- or congressional -- support, President Bush told a Latino business group yesterday that he has no intention of abandoning his effort.

"There's a lot of moving parts, as they say -- which says to me, I better keep working on it," Bush said. "And I'm going to. I'm just getting started."

"I'm just getting started," President Bush said of his proposal to allow workers to have private accounts. (Larry Downing -- Reuters)

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Social Security

Speaking before the Latino Coalition, a public policy group, Bush said his plan to restructure Social Security by curbing future benefit increases for middle- and upper-income workers and adding private accounts is the best way to strengthen the retirement program without raising taxes. He also repeated his contention that his plan would protect the nation's lowest-paid workers by ensuring they do not retire into poverty. "To me, that's a noble goal," Bush said.

The president made a similar appeal Tuesday to factory workers in Canton, Miss.

Bush told his audience yesterday that his plan to allow workers to divert a portion of their salaries into private accounts that are invested in the stock market would help low-income people build wealth and have a greater stake in society. He said he has directed several federal agencies to work with Hispanic business groups to help build financial literacy among Latinos to make them more confident about investing.

The president's appearance before the Latino policy group at a Washington hotel was criticized by some Latino leaders, who said Bush's proposal would amount to the largest benefit cut in the program's 70-year history.

"For him to say dignity in retirement is really a misstatement, a gross misstatement," said Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She said that Bush's plan for private accounts not only would add to the nation's debt problems, but also transform Social Security's current guarantees into a gamble. "Who has that kind of belief or confidence in Wall Street anymore?" she asked in a conference call with reporters.

Much of the success of Bush's plan to restructure Social Security will depend on Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who was in the audience -- and was the object of high praise from the president.

"It's relevant he is here -- after all, it's his committee that is going to write the reforms necessary to make sure the Social Security system works for a younger generation of Americans," Bush said. "I have worked closely with Chairman Thomas on a lot of crucial issues. When he says he can get the job done, he means he can get the job done and has proven over the past five years that he can get the job done. Mr. Chairman, thank you for joining us."

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