Bush: Social Security is a 'long-term issue'

President Bush appeared yesterday to back away from what was to be a centerpiece of his second term, overhauling Social Security, as he called on Congress both to restrain federal spending and to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

The president said he wanted lawmakers to provide disaster relief, cut non-defense portions of the federal budget, pay for the ongoing war on terrorism and pass a new energy bill that would expand the nation’s gasoline-refining capacity.

Bush said he would release a longer list of priorities during his State of the Union address in January. “But right now, let’s just get the business of the Congress done,” he said.

Asked specifically whether he still thought Social Security reform should be taken up this year, Bush demurred but said projected shortfalls in funding levels are a long-term problem that still needed to be addressed.

He said: “There seems to be a diminished appetite in the short term, but I’m going to remind people that there is a long-term issue that we must solve, not only for the sake of the budget but, more importantly, for the sake of younger workers, who are going to either have to pay a ton of money in order to justify current benefits or to take a look at the underlying causes of the growth of benefits and do something about it, show some political courage.”

Among the list of items that did make his short-term agenda, Bush first mentioned getting a budget that is “fiscally responsible,” which he described as one that would decrease non-defense discretionary spending.

He also called on Congress to increase energy supplies in part by encouraging the construction of new gasoline refineries, noting that a new plant had not been built since the 1970s.

The House is expected to take up a bill on Friday to make it easier for new refineries to be constructed or existing ones expanded by suspending certain clean-air regulatory requirements.