Democrats vying on Social Security

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Several rank-and-file Democrats are suggesting alternative ideas to President Bush’s Social Security reform concept, despite their leadership’s argument that there isn’t a need to offer a counterproposal right now.

Rep. Dennis Moore, Kansas Democrat, and Rep. Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Democrat, have each crafted versions of “lock box” bills aimed at ensuring that Social Security trust fund money is not diverted for other uses.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, has been shopping the idea that Congress could pay for Social Security’s projected shortfall over the next 75 years simply by refraining from extending some of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, says that now is not the right time for a specific proposal, but that Democrats know that Social Security’s future financial problems must be addressed and will do so.

“I don’t think it is useful at this point in time for me to start discussing individual ideas,” Mr. Hoyer said. “We are prepared to come up and will come up with responsible suggestions. We want to see what the president suggests. He has outlined that, but we still don’t have a presidential proposal on the table.”

Democrats argue that Mr. Bush’s plan to let some workers invest part of their Social Security contributions in private accounts would require massive federal borrowing and result in big benefits cuts.

They say it amounts to privatizing Social Security — an idea that Mr. Hoyer said is “opposed overwhelmingly by the Democratic Party and by the American people, and the polls suggest that very clearly.”

But Republicans say Democrats are foolish to continue attacking Mr. Bush’s Social Security ideas without offering any of their own.

“I think the American people across the country realize there’s a problem with Social Security, and they want it to be fixed,” said Dan Allen, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

“Democrats have decided they’re going to stand on the sidelines and launch barbs.”

The Senate Republican Policy Committee yesterday put out a paper criticizing Senate Democrats for their inaction on Social Security.

“Unfortunately, Senate Democrats seem intent on opposing reform in favor of the status quo. Therefore, by opposing all change, their ‘bill’ assures that the current system stays in place exactly as it is today,” the paper read.

It went on to estimate the cost of doing nothing on Social Security, arguing that it would require new borrowing or tax increases of more than $5.8 trillion between 2018 and 2042, which likely would mean personal income-tax increases of roughly $232 billion a year.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, say Democrats are willing to sit down and talk with Mr. Bush about Social Security reform. But their main focus has been defeating Mr. Bush’s private-accounts idea. And they haven’t offered an alternative proposal.

Kristie Greco, spokeswoman for Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, said many Democrats, including her boss, are waiting to see the specifics of Mr. Bush’s plan before formally offering their own. She also noted that Republican leaders haven’t congregated around a plan either.

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