- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

President Bush is considering a compromise on Social Security reform that would create ‘add-on’ private investment accounts, softening the insistence that a portion of one’s payroll taxes fund the program.

‘The president made it clear that we’re not going to get into ruling things in or out,’ White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters yesterday aboard Air Force One on the way to a Social Security ‘conversation’ at Lakeland Community College outside Cleveland.

Mr. McClellan was addressing comments made public earlier yesterday about the ‘add-on’ investment accounts by Allan Hubbard, head of the president’s National Economic Council.

‘We haven’t ruled it out; we haven’t ruled it in, but we’re certainly willing to discuss it,’ Mr. Hubbard said. ‘It really comes down to what the proposal is.’

In an interview quoted by USA Today, he suggested many solutions to Social Security’s impending insolvency are on the table, including raising the retirement age to 68.

Democrats are opposed to Mr. Bush’s idea of allowing workers to take about one-third of their Social Security taxes to invest in private retirement accounts.

Many Democrats, however, have indicated that they might be able to support an ?add-on? program that essentially would be a new entitlement in which the government would fund the private retirement accounts separately.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, issued a critical press release yesterday shortly after Mr. Hubbard’s comments were reported.

‘The president’s top economic adviser has confirmed that the White House is exploring raising the retirement age as a way to pay for risky private accounts,’ Mrs. Pelosi said. ‘We already know that privatization will add trillions of dollars of debt and slash benefits by more than 40 percent. Now it appears that the White House is exploring additional benefit cuts to fund its privatization plan, which is unnecessary, unaffordable and unwise.’

The Social Security trustees have estimated that the government-run retirement system will begin paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2017 and become insolvent in 2037.

At yesterday’s Social Security event, Mr. Bush said ?all ideas are on the table,? but made it clear that his vision of private accounts is preferred.

‘The younger worker ought to be allowed to set aside some of the payroll taxes,’ he said while offering a political olive branch to Democrats.

‘I imagine there’s some people fearful in Washington, D.C., about maybe laying out an interesting idea and that one of the political parties will get all over them for laying it out,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘If I had anything to do with it, it would be political amnesty for people bringing good ideas forward.

‘Now is not the time to play political ‘gotcha’ with a member of any political party, for stepping up and bringing forth ideas to do what they think is right to help solve this problem permanently for generations of Americans to come,’ he said.

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