LEWISTON – President Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card was in Maine on Friday in hopes of persuading this state’s senior U.S. senator to work with the Bush administration to head off looming bankruptcy of the Social Security system.

Sen. Olympia Snowe sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to craft a bill aimed at ensuring Social Security’s permanent solvency, Card said.

Bush instructed congressional leaders to consider “everything on the table” in tackling the problem, except for a hike in the Social Security tax rate, Card said.

He made three stops in Maine on Friday, including Bangor and Portland, stumping for Social Security reform.

He said Bush is committed to a guaranteed benefit for all retired American workers. Bush would like to see benefits paid to lower income retirees adjusted at a higher rate of inflation than those paid to higher income recipients.

Bush told lawmakers he would consider lifting the $90,000 limit for wages taxable under Social Security, a move that would be opposed by most conservative Republicans, Card said.

The centerpiece of Bush’s reform effort is the proposed creation of personal retirement accounts. Young workers would be allowed to divert a portion of their taxed wages into conservative investments. Interest from those investments would supplement the basic Social Security benefit, not replace it, Card said.

Bush “wants to make sure they get a Social Security check, but he also wants to make sure they have a chance to do better,” Card said.

He used the example of a worker who earns an average of $32,900. Currently, Social Security would pay $14,700. Under the dual inflation rate proposal, the recipient would get $16,600, a 12.4 percent increase.

Moreover, if that worker were allowed to invest up to 4 percent of taxed wages, he could earn $196,000 by the time he reaches retirement age. Added to his base benefit, his overall retirement income would be $21,700, Card said.

Although Bush said “everything should be on the table,” Card said Congress should strongly consider including personal accounts as an integral part of overall Social Security reform, not as an adjunct.

But getting Snowe’s endorsement might be a hard sell.

Snowe said earlier this year she believed there is no Social Security “crisis” that requires a quick fix.

She also said privatization of Social Security “could undermine the integrity” of the system.

“I hope she understands it’s very important we work together to find a solution,” Card said.

If not addressed soon, the problem will only get worse, he said.

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