Bush pledges protection for Medicare, Social Security
By Major Garrett
INDEPENDENCE, Missouri (CNN) -- President Bush visited Democratic icon Harry Truman's hometown Tuesday to tout his plans for preserving Social Security and Medicare, saying both programs would be protected under his budget, even as Democrats planned to greet him with TV ads accusing him of "raiding" the programs.
Bush, speaking in a packed high school auditorium, said new budget numbers to be released by his administration Wednesday "will show in plain terms that we have fully funded and will be able to fully fund our nation's priorities."
The numbers, Bush said, will illustrate "that we've got enough money to preserve and protect Social Security, that we'll pay down over $100 billion of public debt, that Medicare -- all Medicare, every dime that comes into Medicare, will be spent on Medicare.
"And we can meet our priorities when it comes to our military and ... education," Bush added.
The Democratic National Committee plans to launch a "small" ad buy on Tuesday and Wednesday, targeted at journalists and political junkies in select areas, including Truman's home town. In addition to Independence, the ads will run in Washington, D.C.; Waco, Texas; and Salisbury, Maryland.
Waco is near Bush's ranch, where he has been vacationing, while Salisbury's TV market covers the beach cities of Ocean City, Maryland, and Rehoboth, Delaware, where many Washingtonians vacation. The White House chose Independence for Bush's speech for symbolic reasons -- President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law there in 1965 as a tribute to Truman, the first president to propose national health insurance.
Bush made his comments at Harry S. Truman High School, with a large contingent on retirees on hand to hear his speech, which touched on a variety of his priorities but ended with a focus on the two retirement programs.
The DNC ads accuse Bush of jeopardizing the long-term health of Social Security and Medicare. Their central allegation is that federal budget surpluses have shrunk from a projected $281 billion in February of this year to $158 billion in August. Democrats argue this brings the budget close to spending excess Social Security revenue, something Bush has vowed never to do.
"The Bush budget violates one of Harry Truman's basic principles -- protecting seniors," the ad says.
In his speech, though, Bush said his fiscal policies have helped protect the surplus despite the year-long economic slowdown. Even though the budget surplus has shrunk, Bush noted that it remains large when compared to other years.
"Despite the year-long trend….the federal budget will have the second largest surplus in history. In part, because this administration took immediate action to address the downturn. We took exactly the right action, at the right time, by pushing the largest tax cut in a generation," Bush said.
"You will hear people say that tax relief is gonna make it hard to meet the budget. But reality is tax relief is important to make sure our economy grows," he said. "I believe there are some who resent tax relief because they wanted more of your money in Washington, D.C. It's a fundamental philosophical difference."
But the Democrats say the smaller surplus means Washington is spending funds Republicans had vowed to set aside for all Medicare expenses. Coverage of Social Security tax revenue and Medicare operating expenses would require a surplus of roughly $207 billion, Democrats say.
Bush said Congress, though, must do its part to protect the nation's budget outlook. "The biggest threat to our recovery is for the Congress to overspend."
The Republican National Committee has dismissed the Democratic ad campaign.
"It's another attempt by the Democrats to use special interest money to attack the president," said Trent Duffy, spokesman for the RNC. "It has not worked before, and it won't work now."
CNN's Manuel Perez-Rivas contributed to this report.
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