- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

Democratic leaders yesterday seized on stock market jitters to demand that President Bush abandon his Social Security reform plan, but the White House dismissed it as partisan bickering from ineffective lawmakers.

"What they're trying to do is wreck the best pension system that's ever been created in this country," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. "You bet it scares seniors. It should scare all of us."

Democrats, who are blaming deregulation by Republicans for the current spate of corporate accounting scandals, want a vote in Congress before the November elections on Mr. Bush's plan to allow workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in the stock market.

House Republican leaders say they will not address proposals until after the elections, to limit the opportunities for politicizing the issue.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said America's 80 million investors "are looking to Washington, D.C., and the leaders for solutions, and not sniping."

"They're looking to their leaders for bipartisanship and not bickering," he said.

Then, in a shot at the Democrat-led Senate, Mr. Fleischer added: "If you look at the congressional calendar, they have not been able to take action on many of the issues in which the House of Representatives passed legislation last year, let alone be able to take up something new."

Democrats, who often use Social Security as a campaign issue, raised the harshness of their attack on the White House. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, still called into question the legitimacy of Mr. Bush's election, referring to him as the man who "was appointed as president of the United States."

Mr. Rangel also suggested that Mr. Bush had been corrupt to accept loans in 1990 from Harken Energy Corp., on whose board of directors he served.

"The president has gone to Wall Street to talk about the corruption that exists in corporations, and God knows, he has the experience so he knows what he's talking about," Mr. Rangel told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said that, given the recent plunge in the stock market, the White House plan is "forcing people to play Russian roulette with their retirement."

But Republicans said the new attack indicates Democrats are desperate, because they are using their tried-and-true campaign issue in midsummer instead of saving it for closer to elections in November.

"The only surprise is that it's a little earlier than usual," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "The Social Security 'scare' comes up every two years. When all else fails, political scoundrels scare old people."

Mr. Lott said Democrats offer no solutions to the problem of keeping the retirement system solvent in the coming decades. He also said that both parties know full well that Congress does not have time to address the issue in the next three months, with 13 appropriations bills to complete and the White House's homeland security proposal to enact.

"We're not going to act in this area this year," Mr. Lott said. "We can't do it all this year. They know it. We know it. And hopefully, the senior citizens know it totally partisan, blatant politics that is so unfair to the people that count on this for minimal subsistence."

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