- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Some Senate Republicans say Social Security private accounts are stalled in their chamber, but party leaders insist that it’s too early in the process to declare a loss.

“It’s a dog paddle at best,” Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, said of the effort to move Social Security legislation that includes President Bush’s plan for private accounts. “It’s not dead, but it’s on life support.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, wasn’t so grim.

“We’re making progress,” he said. “We’re early in the game.”

Senate Republicans have been debating privately how they should proceed, but neither the Republican leadership nor Mr. Bush has embraced specific Social Security legislation.

Democrats have stood firmly in opposition to private accounts.

“It takes two to negotiate, and two aren’t negotiating,” Mr. Smith said. “The debate has gone forward, but the consensus has not been found and the clock is ticking.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Senate leaders should set a date for floor action on Social Security legislation.

“It’s the best way to move negotiations,” said Mr. Graham, who has been talking with members on both sides of the aisle about a bill he is crafting.

Another option would be for Senate Republicans to set aside private accounts, at least temporarily, to bring Democrats to the table. A Senate Republican aide said this alternative was mentioned in a Republican leadership meeting last week.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, said he is interested in a bill crafted by Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, that would omit private accounts. Senate centrists met yesterday to discuss the bill.

Mr. Santorum, however, said that plan goes against leadership strategy and that private accounts are still in play.

Mr. Graham suggested that Mr. Bush focus his message on other options for fixing Social Security. Republicans have presented several proposals, but no consensus has been reached.

“Nothing out there has generated a lot of support,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who has been courted by the White House and Republicans because he is open to private accounts.

Mr. Nelson wants to see a specific plan from Senate Republican leaders or the White House.

Other Senate Democrats say that even if Republicans back away from the proposal for private accounts, they would need the same assurance from Mr. Bush.

“The president is clearly the prime mover,” said Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. “If some Republicans take [private accounts] off the table and the president puts it back on the table, why go down that road?”

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