- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Key House Republicans are expected to unite today around the idea of using Social Security surplus funds to create personal retirement accounts for individuals.

“It’s a rollout of an idea that the Ways and Means Committee likes,” said House Majority Lader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, who wouldn’t personally endorse the idea yet.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas will back the idea, as will key Republican panel members E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Sam Johnson of Texas, say several Republicans speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Each of the three panel members was advancing his own Social Security plan until this compromise idea came along.

The Ways and Means group was tight-lipped about the compromise, and it was not clear whether they would introduce an actual bill today or not.

But Senate supporters — led by Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, and Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican — will introduce legislation along these lines tomorrow. The idea is to stop government from using the surplus Social Security funds for other programs.

The Senate proposal was running into some problems yesterday, according to one House Republican aide and one Senate Democratic aide. But Mr. DeMint’s office disputed that.

“On our side, the senator is pleased that senators are starting to unify the idea of stopping the raid,” said Wesley Denton, spokesman for Mr. DeMint.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Mr. Bush is “welcoming all ideas,” though he “is committed to a voluntary personal account within Social Security and saving Social Security once and for all.”

Mr. Duffy said it is “way too early” to speculate on what the White House would do if House Republicans push ahead and try to pass this latest idea of using the surplus to create personal accounts.

A House Republican lawmaker said Mr. Thomas was still “running the traps” on such a proposal late yesterday and wanted to “get all the fiscal impact,” before he officially signed off on it.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush yesterday encouraged Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, to go ahead with a plan that does not include private accounts.

“He indicated that I should go forward and do that, and I’m grateful to have him do that, even though his own preference would be to have personal accounts included,” Mr. Bennett said.

The senator said he hoped to see whether Democrats were serious when they said they would talk about Social Security if private accounts are not part of the solution.

“We have a lot of hope that we can use this bill to break the logjam and move forward on Social Security,” he said.

The White House said Mr. Bush’s comments do not mean he is giving up on private accounts, only that he welcomes a discussion of options.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.

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