- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

Democrats said last night they will try to work with President Bush where they can find common ground, but said the vision he laid out in his State of the Union address for Social Security will not be one of those areas.

“The Bush plan isn’t really Social Security reform. It’s more like Social Security roulette,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, as he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, delivered the Democratic response.

“Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings. But that doesn’t mean taking Social Security’s guarantee and gambling with it. And that’s coming from a senator who represents Las Vegas,” Mr. Reid said.

Others were more blunt.

“What a crock,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, who called it “one of the most fundamentally dishonest speeches I’ve ever heard.”

And Rep. G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat, said Mr. Bush was wrong to use his high-profile speech that way.

“There’s no question that Social Security needs reform, but to send a signal to the American people that it’s going bankrupt is irresponsible and wrong. … To put savings in risky investments is not a good idea,” he said.

Republicans, though, said Democrats are ignoring the realities of the issue.

“The Democrats have offered nothing to the debate thus far. They want to deny that there is even a problem,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, who marveled at the Democrats who shouted a chorus of “no’s” when Mr. Bush talked about optional savings accounts for younger workers.

“Why would a Democrat be against giving young workers choice?” Mr. Cantor said.

Republicans praised Mr. Bush for a “bold” vision and for showing “courage” in tackling the Social Security issue.

“When you demonstrate the moral leadership the president has, people will respond,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “Strengthening Social Security isn’t just an attractive policy proposal, it’s a moral obligation, and this Congress will meet our obligation to the American people.”

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, compared Mr. Bush’s remarks favorably to former President Bill Clinton’s speeches, saying that unlike the Democrat, “President Bush has shown us time and time again that his State of the Union addresses are more than great speeches. They are real blueprints for the direction the president plans to take our country.”

Some Republican members of Congress dipped their index fingers in ink as a salute to the Iraqis who showed off ink-stained fingers from marking ballots during the weekend’s vote.

Democrats, meanwhile, gave tickets to constituents who they said would be hurt by Mr. Bush’s Social Security plan.

Both Democratic leaders said they want to find common ground with the president.

“When we believe the president is on the right track, we won’t let partisan interests get in the way of what’s good for the country. We will be first in line to work with him,” Mr. Reid said. “But when he gets off-track, we will be there to hold him accountable.”

While they didn’t list any areas in which they think they can work with Mr. Bush, their list of things about which they will challenge him appears to be long.

Just as they did on Inauguration Day, Democrats again yesterday used the president’s speech as an opportunity to try to raise money. New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the new chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, sent out a fund-raising e-mail telling potential donors that Democrats “have a plan to roll back” Mr. Bush’s proposals.

Some Democrats did find issues on which they think they and the president can work together. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, listed “fighting terrorism and creating jobs,” and praised Mr. Bush’s commitment to Iraq.

“The president spoke about the importance of completing our mission in Iraq, and I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “Americans disagree about whether we should have gone to war or not, but we can all agree now that we must win, and we must support our troops. We’re on the road to peace and democracy in Iraq, and we’ll reach our goal, if we stick to it.”

cCharles Hurt and Christopher Stollar contributed to this article.

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