- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

Republicans in Congress were told to spend the August recess talking about recent accomplishments, such as the passage of a jobs-creating highway bill and an energy bill but, unlike previous breaks, there was not a coordinated push on Social Security reform.

“This could arguably be the most productive week … since Contract with America,” said Rep. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican.

He said House Republicans have a chance to rally attention before the Senate begins confirmation hearings this fall on Judge John G. Roberts Jr., who has been nominated to the Supreme Court.

Social Security “is on the discussion list for recess, but we have a myriad of accomplishments we need to address first,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Among the accomplishments to be touted are passage of a comprehensive energy bill, legislation funding the nation’s highways and the Central America Free Trade Agreement. All three were sent to President Bush for his signature.

Both chambers have reauthorized versions of the USA Patriot Act, which must be finalized in the fall, and the House has passed 11 key spending bills.

“We have a whole lot to talk about,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Job creation and economic incentives will be the main selling points.

“The emphasis of the message back in our home states during August should be that the Republican Congress has worked to create jobs by passing energy and highway bills, and will continue to build upon the Republican record of accomplishment,” said a memo last week by Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Senate Republican Conference chairman.

The memo also lists talking points on health care and the Supreme Court nomination.

Lower on the Republicans’ August agenda is Social Security. Mr. Bonjean and Mrs. Pryce said Republicans want to focus on clear communication of their accomplishments.

“We don’t want that all to get lost in the Social Security debate,” Mrs. Pryce said.

Social Security did receive a few pages in the official Senate Republican recess packet, which urges members to use the 70th anniversary of the system on Aug. 14 as a way to urge reform.

Republicans from both chambers also have been told to educate constituents and state groups about the Medicare prescription drug benefit that officially rolls out early next year.

“If we don’t have a smooth implementation [of the prescription drug program] … people aren’t going to trust us with Social Security,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.

House Republican leaders have promised a vote on Social Security legislation this fall. Senate action is more uncertain.

Meanwhile, House Democrats will talk this month about their retirement proposal, which combines improvements to pension rules with incentives to save. It doesn’t address Social Security.

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