A July 23 article misstated the deductible under the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. The deductible is $250, not $500. (Published 7/26/2005)

President Bush and his 80-year-old mother implored low-income seniors Friday to sign up for the new Medicare prescription drug plan and renewed the White House campaign to restructure Social Security.

With Washington fixated on the Supreme Court and the CIA leak investigation, Bush met up with former first lady Barbara Bush to pitch the Medicare drug benefit that takes effect in January. The president and his mother teased each other about getting old and about the color of their hair before explaining the Bush vision for changing the twin pillars of retirement: Medicare and Social Security.

As part of a campaign to alert seniors to the drug plan, Bush said millions of Americans will benefit from lower prescription costs if they sign up. Enrollment starts Nov. 15. "This is a good deal," he said during an informal speech and discussion here. "If you're a low-income senior, you need to get the form and fill it out. It'll help you a lot."

The program, whose cost to taxpayers is estimated at half a trillion dollars in the first eight years, offers most seniors the chance to pay a $500 deductible, a $35 monthly premium and some co-payments to cover the cost of their medicine. The government estimates about 30 million of the nation's 42 million elderly and disabled on Medicare might sign up for the voluntary program. This summer, millions of retirees who might qualify are receiving a letter from the Social Security Administration, and more details are to be sent Oct. 1.

Congress authorized $1 billion to implement the new Medicare program and explain it to the public, though some advocates for the elderly complain that many seniors are unaware of or confused about the plan. Low-income seniors stand to benefit most, the administration says. People making less than $15,000 annually would see about 95 percent of their drug costs covered by the plan, according to White House estimates. "It will save [seniors] money," Barbara Bush said.

The mother-and-son duo also tried to drum up support for Bush's plan to allow workers 55 and younger to put some of their payroll taxes into private savings accounts in exchange for a reduction in promised Social Security benefits for most Americans. The Bush Social Security plan, his top domestic priority for the year, is on life support, as members of Congress have postponed hearings on it until at least September and have started rallying around plans that differ sharply from Bush's.

House Republicans are pushing a plan to create private retirement accounts without any reductions in scheduled benefits, which White House aides said would fall far short of meeting Bush's goal of fixing the system's long-term financial problems. Barbara Bush said her son should be commended for having the "guts" to take on this "political nightmare." The president blamed politics for congressional resistance but vowed to keep pressuring lawmakers to embrace his plan by year's end.

"I don't care what the rhetoric is, seniors have nothing to worry about when it comes to Social Security," the president said. "What you better worry about is whether or not your grandchildren are going to get their checks."

Friday's event was a family affair for the White House: In addition to Bush's mother joining him on stage, the McClellan brothers (Scott, the White House spokesman, and Mark, the head of the administration's Medicare and Medicaid office) were on the trip and deputy press secretary Trent Duffy's in-laws were seated front and center in the auditorium.

In Atlanta, Barbara Bush and President Bush work to win seniors over to the new prescription drug benefit that becomes available in January.