Bush appears ready to propose Social Security changes in convention speech

Saturday, August 28th 2004, 11:52 am
By: News On 6

TROY, Ohio (AP) _ President Bush plans to offer specific policy proposals on Social Security and other issues during his speech at the Republican National Convention, a top adviser said Saturday.

Karen Hughes hinted that Bush would disclose a plan for partial privatization of Social Security. ``You just heard him talk about an ownership society,'' Hughes told reporters. ``He wants to give a chance for younger workers to own a piece of their own retirement.''

Previous Bush administration proposals on Social Security privatization have found little traction in Congress. Critics say privatizing the federal pension program could bring drastic cuts in benefits for future retirees.

Hughes said Bush also wants to emphasize foreign policy in the speech.

During a speech-editing session on Friday, Hughes said, Bush told his speechwriters to accentuate the ``transformational power of liberty.'' She said Bush will argue that freedom and democracy are the best weapons against terror.

Security was a major theme along with education as Bush set out Saturday on a pre-convention campaign tour of Ohio, which he narrowly won four years ago.

Bush said he was the candidate to keep America secure and to improve education. Praising the ``No Child Left Behind'' law, a keynote of his presidency, Bush said he wants to invest more to connect schools to the Internet and to improve math and science teaching.

``We're closing the achievement gap in America, but there's more to do,'' Bush told the crowd after being interrupted by choreographed chants of ``Four More Years!''

Critics complain that the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have failed to provide the nation's schools with enough money to meet federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Thus, they say, local school districts face onerous budget problems.

Bush also criticized Democratic nominee John Kerry's pledge to eliminate some of Bush 's tax cuts for the richest Americans should Kerry become president.

``We said, `If we're going to provide tax relief, everybody who pays gets relief,''' Bush said. ``We're not going to play politics with your wallet.''

The Kerry campaign was quick to react. Spokesman Phil Singer said, ``Once again we're seeing George Bush mislead America. The fact is that John Kerry wants to cut taxes for 98 percent of Americans, while George Bush's tax policies have shifted more of the tax burden on to middle-class America. With George Bush's tax cuts, the overwhelming majority of Americans end up losing.''

The Troy area's Republican representative in Congress, John Boehner, estimated the crowd at 20,000. Bush chose the small industrial town's main square as a backdrop for his first speech in a three-stop tour of Ohio.

He is visiting several states just before and after next week's Republican National Convention in New York, and the stops seem to follow closely his campaign's electoral map strategy.

With at least 11 straight days of campaigning planned, the president will travel to Ohio and Pennsylvania three times and make two appearances each in Iowa and West Virginia.

Bush and Democratic opponent Kerry are leaving nothing to chance as they try to win these and other contested states in the Nov. 2 elections.

On Saturday, Bush began with the rally in Troy. Also on his schedule were a question-and-answer session in Lima and an evening appearance in Perrysburg.

A week later, on Sept. 4, it's back onto a bus in Ohio and another swing through the state.

The president is supposed to be in West Virginia this Sunday and next.

Pennsylvania has been his most frequent destination since he took office, and the trend is continuing. It's the state where Bush will stop immediately after his Thursday night speech to the GOP convention: He will spend the night in Wilkes-Barre.

Before accepting the nomination in New York, Bush is to attend a softball game and picnic in Gettysburg, Pa., on Tuesday.

Iowa is on the schedule for Tuesday _ the 2004 Farm Progress Show _ and Friday.

Aides are not talking about Bush's travel plans beyond next weekend.

The president won Ohio and its 20 electoral votes by 3.6 percentage points in 2000 over Democrat Al Gore. The state has had a spotty economic recovery, and recent polls have reflected an extremely tight race.

Only twice since 1900, in 1944 and 1960, has Ohio failed award its electoral votes to the candidate who eventually won the election.