- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

Several Republicans are questioning President Bush’s proposals on Social Security reform, and one top House Republican is pushing new ideas, leaving some Bush allies doubting that legislation will advance this year.

“Given the fact that Republicans are just all over the map on Social Security, the chance of getting reform done this year is looking to be unlikely,” said Stephen Moore, founder of the conservative Free Enterprise Fund, which advocates for Social Security reform. “The White House has to regroup.”

Some Republicans have expressed hesitation about Mr. Bush’s proposal to allow younger workers to invest part of their payroll taxes in private accounts, an idea that Democrats have attacked.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican, has mentioned new ideas for Social Security reform that he says Congress should at least discuss. He has raised such prospects as creating other ways to fund the system besides the payroll tax, looking at chronic or long-term-care savings plans as added resources and adjusting benefits according to longevity.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said party debate on Social Security isn’t cause for concern.

“It is a complex issue,” the Tennessee Republican said. “I think it’s a call for continued education.”

A spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said Mr. Thomas’ comments are “meant to broaden the scope of the debate.”

“He wants to get something done,” John Feehery said of the California Republican. “It’s important to have a family discussion.”

Mr. Bush has not given lawmakers a detailed legislative plan, but repeatedly has discussed his principles, including maintaining the current system for those in or near retirement but creating private accounts for younger workers.

Mr. Frist has reserved the first Senate bill slot for Mr. Bush’s plan.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Mr. Bush “has not decided on a specific plan” and cast doubt on whether he will provide legislative language.

The president and many Republicans argue that Social Security is in jeopardy and that Congress must address the situation now. At the current rate, Social Security will begin paying out more money than it is taking in by 2018 and the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted by 2042.

This past weekend, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine became the latest Republican to express reservations about the direction Mr. Bush is heading.

On CNN’s “Inside Politics Sunday,” she said discussion over the president’s ideas has produced “confusion and fear among seniors,” who don’t want their benefits cut, and she warned Congress to move carefully.

Arguments also have arisen among Republicans about the urgency of the Social Security situation.

“There are just more pressing issues that need to be addressed,” said Todd Mitchell, spokesman for Rep. Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, predicted that the Republican voices of dissent will increase. “You’re going to see more and more speak up,” he said.

Mr. Thomas said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Congress should look beyond the traditional adjustments to Social Security. For example, he said, raising the Social Security age without adjusting for sex and race “creates inequities on who you are and how long you live.”

In a discussion panel last week, Mr. Thomas said Mr. Bush has not vetoed any bills that do not conform to his proposals, “which I think means we have some latitude in putting together a package.”

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