- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

House Republicans yesterday united behind a Social Security proposal that is smaller and more restrictive than President Bush’s initiative to create personal accounts, saying this first step toward reform has the best chance of passing this year.

“This is where the consensus lies in our conference; this is where the consensus lies in the country,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “Social Security surplus ought to go to Social Security.”

Mr. Ryan and several other Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee endorsed a proposal to dedicate the Social Security surplus to creating voluntary personal accounts, rather than using it for other government programs.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and other Republicans are expected to introduce a similar plan today in the Senate.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, said he plans to include the idea in the larger retirement package he is crafting.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, called the proposal “an excellent first step.”

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, did not endorse the plan outright but said, “I think it’s workable.”

Republican supporters hope the bill will unite the party and re-energize the Social Security debate. They hope the idea of saving the Social Security surplus will attract even some Democratic support.

But Democrats remain united against any proposal to create personal Social Security accounts, which are supported by Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans.

“Privatization is privatization,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means social security subcommittee. “The first effort [toward private accounts] has been rejected by the public, and so they’re trying to put it in new clothing.”

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, called the proposal “a smaller version of a bad idea.”

Although the proposal is gaining momentum in the House, it likely will have a harder time in the Senate, where Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said it is “not the most ideal.”

Social Security is projected to run annual surpluses until about 2017. Although the revenue is collected in a trust fund, it is spent on other government programs.

Supporters of the latest approach toward reform say the government promises to pay back the money but isn’t legally bound to do so. They hope to dedicate the surplus — in the form of government-guaranteed bonds — to voluntary personal accounts for workers younger than 55.

Mr. Bush’s idea would finance the accounts by diverting about 4 percent of the worker’s Social Security payroll taxes. He has proposed larger accounts that could include investments in stocks and bonds.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush is committed to personal accounts as well as the larger solvency goal, but “welcomes all those who are coming forward with ideas and putting ideas on the table.”

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