President Bush on Thursday ruled out raising taxes to finance the centerpiece of his second-term domestic agenda: a Social Security overhaul to help the system survive an impending wave of retiring baby boomers.
Three years after his Social Security commission issued recommendations on how to repair the system, Bush remained noncommittal Thursday on how he would pay for the estimated $2 trillion cost of revamping Social Security. But vast new borrowing seemed increasingly likely."I will not prejudge any solution," Bush said in the Oval Office after meeting with the Social Security trustees who submit an annual report on the state of the program's funding. But he went on to say, "We will not raise payroll taxes to solve this problem."
Bush reiterated a 2000 campaign pledge to let younger workers invest some of their payroll taxes in the stock market. Bush's commission urged that younger Americans be allowed to place 1 percent to
4 percent of their income into a private account to be invested in the stock market for retirement. Promised benefits would be reduced for younger workers, with investments expected to make up the difference. Workers who chose not to invest would get the reduced benefit alone.
Bush sidestepped a reporter's query about whether the nation can afford new, large-scale debt at a time when deficits have reached record levels. Before engaging in such questions, the public and Congress must grasp the problem, Bush said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not answer directly when asked nine times whether Bush would be open to raising the limit on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax.