- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2000

Business groups and Social Security reformers charged yesterday that Vice President Al Gore's latest proposals to expand retirement benefits for women would result in higher payroll taxes for workers and employers.

Their criticism came as Mr. Gore and his Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, traded charges this week over how to shore up the Social Security program.

Mr. Gore wants to add some benefits to the system, while keeping it running through increased debt and tax revenues. Mr. Bush wants to lessen the system's growing taxpayer liability by giving workers the option of investing a portion of their payroll taxes into their own personal retirement accounts.

"Gore's talking about giving women more benefits and not talking about how he would pay for these benefits. When you ask them what their plan is, they don't have a plan. The only thing they have is taxes, which they don't want to talk about, said Leanne Abdnor, executive director of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, a coalition of major business organizations.

"Their agenda is to stop those of us who want to give all workers the option to invest in their own personal accounts," Miss Abdnor said.

"He's pandering to the mothers," said Stephan Thurman, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's deputy chief economist.

"On the one hand, he's talking about using the Social Security surpluses to pay down the debt, and on the other, he's talking about expanding existing benefits. You are talking out of both sides of your mouth."

"Somewhere down the pike, you would have to raise taxes to pay for these expanded benefits," Mr. Thurman said.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania Tuesday, Mr. Gore attacked Mr. Bush's plan to let workers build their own investment accounts, which would yield a much higher return over their working lives than the returns of 1 percent to 2 percent many younger workers will receive from Social Security.

Mr. Gore called the idea "stock-market roulette" that would jeopardize the economic security of future retirees. "I believe it's wrong to ask our elderly to roll the dice with their retirement savings," he said.

But Mr. Bush said he could not "think of a better reform than allowing women to manage their own personal savings accounts, particularly younger workers in our society."

Mr. Gore's proposal would eliminate the "motherhood penalty" by raising the benefits for women who left the work force to raise children and thus paid in less into the system. He also proposed increasing benefits for widows and widowers.

"The devil is in the details, but we're concerned that might lead to coming back to the business community and asking for more taxes. The system is already facing insolvency," said John Emling, manager of legislative affairs at the National Federation of Independent Business.

Mr. Bush, who rarely raised the investment reform idea during the primaries, said during a campaign appearance in Pennsylvania Tuesday that he intended to make the issue a central part of his campaign.

The Texas governor accused Mr. Gore of wanting to preserve "the status quo," while a Bush administration would "put political capital on the line" to work out a bipartisan solution with Congress.

"The irony in this emerging debate is that for the past four State of the Union addresses, President Clinton has said that the system needs to be fixed," said Mike Shields, who heads Social Security Plus, a group promoting Social Security privatization.

"Now, Al Gore is saying there is nothing wrong with the system and it doesn't need to be fixed," Mr. Shields said.

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