- The Washington Times - Friday, April 29, 2005

President Bush yesterday played the role of ‘good cop’ in the Social Security debate by touting bipartisan reform as his subordinates played ‘bad cop’ by accusing Democrats of obstructionism.

One day after using the bully pulpit of a prime-time press conference to push for an overhaul of Social Security, Mr. Bush took his message on the road to wrap up a 60-day, coast-to-coast sales pitch. But he made only a veiled reference to Senate Democrats, who rejected his latest reform ideas even before he finished Thursday’s press conference.

‘Those who block meaningful reform are going to be held to account in the polls,’ Mr. Bush told an audience in Falls Church. ‘The American people expect us in Washington, D.C., to do our duty and not play politics as usual with an issue as important as Social Security.’

The president’s underlings were less diplomatic. Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, labeled Democrats ‘obstructionists’ for rejecting Mr. Bush’s proposals on personal retirement accounts and a more progressive benefits formula.

‘Many of today’s reactionary Democratic leaders aren’t democrats — they’re elitists,’ he told a meeting of Republican state chairmen. ‘Democrats trust the people — they don’t.’

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid continued to criticize the president’s reform proposals.

‘Democrats are disappointed to see the president’s Social Security tour end,’ the Nevada Democrat said yesterday. ‘Because the more the president talks about his misleading privatization plan, the more the American people learn what a bad deal it is.’

It was a reference to public opinion polls that show declining support for Mr. Bush’s reform proposal over the past two months. The White House countered that at least Mr. Bush, unlike most Democrats, has proposed specific reforms for Social Security.

‘Last night he was putting forward these ideas and wanted to advance a bipartisan solution so that we can get something done this year,’ White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. ‘Unfortunately, there are some Democratic leaders who continue to take the do-nothing approach.’

Mr. Bush suggested that some Democrats are opposing his Social Security reform proposals merely because enactment of those proposals might make him ‘look good.’

‘Set aside partisan politics and focus on solving America’s problems,’ he urged Democrats. ‘That’s what we need to do in Washington. There’s too much kind of ‘gotcha’ politics.’

It was a relatively mild rebuke of the opposition party, allowing Mr. Bush to remain above the fray. The more overt political warfare was delegated to subordinates.

‘Last night the president set a clear course to strengthen Social Security,’ RNC Press Secretary Tracey Schmitt said. ‘Not only have the Democrats failed to offer any ideas of their own to address the critical issue, they chose to immediately attack the president’s plan.’

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