- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democrats won’t begin negotiating an overhaul of Social Security as long as President Bush insists on private investment accounts because they don’t want to get caught in a “bait and switch,” says the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Some Democrats have expressed doubts about legislation that includes investment accounts and want that aspect of the legislation dropped before they get involved in discussions.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the committee, said he would negotiate with Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, only if the president publicly disavows the accounts, which Mr. Bush has acknowledged will not improve the program’s solvency.

“Otherwise it’s bait-and-switch because they’ve got the majority,” Mr. Baucus said. “We go to conference [committee] and they say, ‘Oh, no we’re just going to talk solvency,’ and lo and behold, they’re in. We’re not going to engage in bait-and-switch.”

Mr. Grassley urged Democrats on Monday to negotiate, even if they just say “no” to a plan with personal accounts.

“You know, they ought to be sitting down at the table, talking to us about solvency, and if they want, it gives them an opportunity … to say, ‘You know, we’ll agree to do this much, but if you’re going to have personal accounts in there, we aren’t going to do it,’” he said. His committee takes up the issue today.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, worked to persuade moderate Republicans to support his proposals. Saying “some in Washington … don’t particularly want to address this issue,” the president warned yesterday that “more and more people” recognize that Social Security’s future is in jeopardy.

“Those who obstruct reform — no matter what party they’re in — will pay a political price, in my judgment,” Mr. Bush said at an appearance near Rochester, N.Y.

The committee hearing, for a second time, will focus on the federal retirement program’s long-term financial challenges. In the House, the Ways and Means Committee had three hearings in a week and two more scheduled for this week, suggesting a more rapid pace toward producing legislation.

“I just hope that by talking about solvency enough, we’re able to get Congress moving on Social Security,” Mr. Grassley said. He said he and Rep. Bill Thomas, the California Republican who heads the Ways and Means Committee, will continue on separate tracks until they get to a House-Senate conference committee. That committee would work to resolve any differences in the competing versions of the legislation.

The president wants to pay for the accounts by diverting a portion of the payroll taxes now used to fund benefits to retirees, the disabled, and deceased workers’ surviving spouses and children.

Democrats say Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans are trying to shift Social Security from a program that provides a guaranteed government benefit to one in which workers manage their own benefits subject to the fluctuations of the stock market.

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