- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

The two hot-button issues that President Bush wants to tackle this year — Social Security and immigration — are about to collide.

Two members of Congress will try to block an agreement that the Bush administration signed with Mexico that would allow Mexicans who have worked in the United States, including some illegal immigrants, to receive Social Security payments.

Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia Republican, will introduce a resolution today calling on the president not to submit the agreement to Congress.

And Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, has prepared another resolution to block the deal, called a totalization agreement, if and when the administration submits it to Congress.

“This is the flash point between border security and Social Security, and it is a major fault line,” Mr. Hayworth said.

Although the congressmen are approaching the issue as proponents of immigration reform, they are being joined by a seniors advocacy group that argues the president endangers his plans to reform Social Security by pushing for an agreement that would deepen the financial hole in which the retirement program finds itself.

C. McClain Haddow, chairman of the policy council for the Seniors Coalition, said his organization has collected 387,000 petitions from its members opposing the deal with Mexico.

“It’s a double cross that they do not understand, and our members are angry here,” he said.

Totalization agreements allow nations to coordinate tax payments into, and benefit payments out of, their public retirement systems.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) signed the agreement in June with the Mexican government, saying it would mean U.S. companies who employ Americans in Mexico or Mexican companies employing Mexicans in the United States would not have to pay retirement-security taxes to both nations.

In addition, the SSA said, workers who split their time and don’t qualify for benefits in either country could combine their time to earn benefits. The agency said the long-term cost to Social Security would be “negligible.”

But the the Government Accountability Office, in a September 2003 report, said the cost is “highly uncertain,” and Mr. Hayworth said the SSA was skewing the numbers.

“The Social Security Administration has willfully underestimated and mischaracterized the number of Mexican workers who would take advantage of, for lack of a better term, this retirement program reciprocity,” he said. “In fact, millions of Mexicans would be eligible under the notion that if they even worked one day under legal status in this country, all their days of illegality would be counted.

“It may not be the intent of the White House and the Social Security Administration, but the result would be a massive drain on Social Security funds, and that is not the way to begin a debate on strengthening Social Security,” he said.

Mr. Hayworth said he raised the issue with Mr. Bush in a recent meeting, and said, “The president thanked me for my candor.”

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