- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

This year's congressional agenda doesn't include taking action on President Bush's plan to create personal savings accounts as part of Social Security.
The president relegated Social Security to two sentences in his State of the Union address, and key members of Congress said they don't see legislation passing this year.
"We'll have hearings on it, but not debate," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for Social Security bills.
"What you're gearing towards is for this to be a major issue in the presidential election in 2004, and hopefully a presidential candidate who wants to save Social Security for your children and grandchildren," Mr. Grassley said. "We need a mandate from the people to move things."
Senate Republicans believe they have about six months to accomplish big policy issues before they become mired in presidential politics. Given that Congress must reauthorize welfare reform and the president's announced priorities include an overhaul of Medicare and an economic growth plan, all of which go through the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, that leaves little time for handling Social Security.
Social Security is projected to begin paying out more than it takes in each year sometime before 2020, and the system will be broke about 20 years later.
After he became president, Mr. Bush created a commission to come up with ways to make the system solvent, and the commission recommended three different plans, each based on some sort of private investment account that would put part of an individual's payroll taxes into the market.
Democrats want to make the president present his bill now, in part because they think it will be politically unpopular.
"It got two lines in the State of the Union, which I think demonstrates the amount of attention he's willing to give it," said Cody Harris, spokesman for Rep. Robert T. Matsui of California, the top Democrat on Ways and Means' Social Security subcommittee.
Mr. Matsui and Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, the top Democrat on Ways and Means, wrote a letter to the president a week ago asking him to form a new commission to examine the issue or, failing that, to send his proposals to Congress to be debated this year.
"If this is a winner, why did the president only say two sentences about it?" asked Mr. Harris. "If they think it's a winner, go for it, do what we suggested in this letter, which is send it down here."
Just how badly Mr. Bush wants action this Congress will be seen today, when he presents his budget to Congress. But Democrats said they don't expect much, given that the government for the foreseeable future will be spending the money designated for the Social Security trust fund.

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