- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

Republican lawmakers differ on how specific President Bush should be when he sends a proposal to Capitol Hill for Social Security form, with some saying he should submit a bill and others wanting only principles for reform.

“If he wants to get something done in the Senate, I think he has to give us a little elbowroom,” said Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican and member of the Senate Finance Committee, which will be responsible for approving any Social Security plan.

Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he wants to craft a bipartisan plan in the Senate and thinks that would be easier to do without a specific bill from the president.

Some lawmakers, however, are hungry for specifics.

“We’re all saying we need details,” Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, said after leaving a meeting last week between Republican senators and the president. “He said, ‘Come to the State of the Union address.’”

Although much of Mr. Bush’s address is expected to be devoted to details on Social Security reform, Mr. Smith and many lawmakers say the ultimate proposal sent to the Hill will be a detailed set of principles, not a bill.

Mr. Bush used that tacticfor the Medicare prescription-drug issue, but on other major measures, such as intelligence reform, he submitted specific legislation.

“As with any legislative issue … we’ll take the approach, use the tactics that we think will be most likely to produce results,” White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said recently regarding Social Security reform.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, tends to lean toward what he called “the House approach” of a specific bill. If Mr. Bush only sends principles, Mr. Lott said, “That’s not good because we’ll mess it up” in the Senate.

Some House members have called for the White House to send up a bill, but Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said he does not want that.

“No, we want him to send us specifics on his core agenda … and we’ll take that core and add to it,” Mr. DeLay said.

Republicans plan to address broader retirement-security issues along with the Social Security reform that Mr. Bush has been pushing, including his idea to allow younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security savings in a private account. By adding issues such as pension reform, long-term health care improvement and, possibly, tax changes to the mix, Mr. DeLay said they will have a better chance of bringing more supporters on board.

This broader approach was first outlined by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican.

The few details revealed about Mr. Bush’s plans mainly have been those leaked in press reports. The Associated Press reported Friday that Mr. Bush’s advisers will recommend a plan under which the private Social Security accounts would look like workplace-sponsored retirement plans, with a handful of investment choices.

Democrats scoffed at that report.

“The so-called ‘details’ given in today’s reports are just an attempt to distract the public from the across-the-board benefit cuts and massive borrowing necessary to follow through with privatization,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat. “The president can’t sell this scheme to the public if he’s straightforward about its consequences.”

If Mr. Bush sends up a specific bill, it will be easier for opponents to target and rip apart and will give less wiggle room from which more moderate senators could deviate.

A specific plan also would give eager Republicans something solid to defend, said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

“The more specific, the more to shoot at,” Mr. Kyl said. “But the more specific, the more to defend.”

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