- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Fresh off a two-week break promoting Social Security overhaul, House Republican leaders now are discussing next steps, as some members want to continue educating the public about the problem and others want to move more aggressively toward legislation.

House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio said she still is distilling mostly positive reports from members about their Social Security events over the break and trying to decide what’s next.

“Some members want to start talking about our solutions now; some members are perfectly fine going out and educating” about Social Security’s financial problems, she said, estimating that Republicans are about evenly split.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, wants to bring a Social Security bill before his panel in July, though he has not hidden the fact that he’s unsure whether the Senate will be able to pass such legislation, and he does not know whether the bill will contain Social Security private accounts, which President Bush supports.

Many House Republicans want the Senate to act first.

“On something as politically sensitive as Social Security, the House is concerned that the House will take some tough votes and then have the Senate do nothing,” said Rep. Jim McCrery, the Louisiana Republican who heads the House subcommittee that will craft such legislation.

He said there is no timetable for a House bill.

“I’d like to get it done this year,” Mr. McCrery said. “But if we don’t, we can do it next [year].”

However, some members are arguing that once the 2006 elections roll around, it will be nearly impossible to pass anything.

Rep. Robin Hayes, North Carolina Republican, would like to see Republicans move toward a proposal soon. “If not now, when?” he asked.

Rep. Adam H. Putnam, Florida Republican, agreed. “We need to do it this year,” he said.

In the Senate, the top Republicans’ current strategy to persuade Democrats to join them is to stress that the public has been convinced there is a problem with Social Security and something needs to be done. Then, Democrats could suffer politically if they don’t agree to at least discuss private accounts.

“With more and more people saying ‘yes, there is a problem,’ it is simply not going to be an adequate response to criticize the president’s proposal,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “I just don’t believe the American people are going to be satisfied if Democrats are spectators.”

Democrats, who have said they won’t negotiate until private accounts are off the table, aren’t buying that.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said Republicans are hiding behind that argument because support for private accounts continues to sink.

“What are they going to say?” Mr. Hoyer asked. “Support for the president’s plan keeps going down. … If you’re the president and you see your numbers going down on your proposal, what do you do? You attack the other guy.”

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