- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

Two Democratic senators joined Republicans yesterday in endorsing a concept promoted by Texas Gov. George W. Bush and opposed by Vice President Al Gore to invest a portion of Social Security payroll taxes in private markets.

On Sunday morning talk shows, Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Democrat, and Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, argued that this approach would help Americans save more for retirement. They also disagreed with Mr. Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, that it would necessarily be risky.

"You're not risking anything like your retirement benefits. They're fixed. They're guaranteed. This is just an extra thing," Mr. Moynihan, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

"I think it's a good idea," the New York senator said of a bill he and Mr. Kerrey are sponsoring that would allow a worker to invest 2 percentage points of the 12.4 percent Social Security tax now paid by employers and employees. The government would designate which types of investments would be offered, but federal officials would not control the choices made, he said.

"Lower-income people would come to retirement, and they'd have a little wealth," Mr. Moynihan said.

Mr. Gore has criticized his Republican rival, Mr. Bush, for advocating a similar approach.

Because the presumptive Republican presidential candidate offered no details about his proposal, Mr. Gore accused him of having a "secret Social Security plan." He called the Bush proposal a "stock market roulette" threat to Social Security.

Bush advisers indicated he will outline his plan in greater depth this week.

Mr. Kerrey told CBS' "Face the Nation" that Gore campaign chairman Tony Coelho had called him to ask about setting up a meeting between the vice president and Democrats who back the legislation creating personal accounts. But Mr. Kerrey acknowledged that "I don't know that there's any leeway" in Mr. Gore's position.

Republicans who appeared on talk shows yesterday were unanimously behind the concept of allowing private investments in the context of Social Security. "What's risky is the vice president's proposal [for Social Security], which would do nothing," Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Mr. Moynihan, Mr. Kerrey and Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, who appeared on CBS, said the system they favor would be similar to the diverse investments made now by 401(k) and pension-fund managers. They argued that millions of middle-class people who are not covered by private plans have little in the way of retirement savings.

"No one is suggesting that we eliminate the basic benefit of Social Security. We are denying over half the people of this country the greatest source of wealth, which is gains in the stock market," Mr. Santorum said on "Face the Nation."

He and Mr. Kerrey countered claims by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, that investing Social Security money in the stock market would remove a "safe floor" Americans should always be able to count on.

Mr. Schumer said he and his wife are currently saving money for their daughter's college education. "We don't put it in the stock market… . You start privatizing Social Security, God knows where you wind up," he said.

Asked if he supports the Bush plan for Social Security reform, Mr. Moynihan said he does not know because he hasn't seen it. But the New York Democrat said it will not be possible to have private accounts from Social Security taxes unless steps are taken to keep the program solvent.

The first step, he said, is to "correct the consumer price index by 0.8 percent." The second is to bring more people into the program. On Fox, he specifically mentioned the need to enroll "all new hires in state and local government."

Other Democrats backing the Moynihan-Kerrey plan include Sen. Charles S. Robb of Virginia and Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Mr. Kerrey said.

On Fox, Mr. Moynihan conceded he does not expect most Democrats to support the accounts. "We have a great capacity for missing opportunities. We've been showing that for the last 20, 30 years," he said.

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