- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan rejected an invitation by President Bush yesterday to attend a discussion on reforming Social Security, instead choosing to protest the president’s plan.

“Leadership means providing real solutions to problems,” Mr. Duncan, a potential Democratic candidate in the 2006 gubernatorial race, told about 60 protesters, most of them students at Montgomery Blair High School, in Silver Spring, where the event was held. Mr. Bush spoke to invited students from other county schools as well.

However, neither Mr. Duncan nor Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, who joined him at the protest, offered an alternative to Mr. Bush’s plan, which would allow taxpayers to put money into private savings accounts instead of paying into the Social Security system.

Mr. Van Hollen is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat left open by Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who is retiring.

Mr. Duncan and Mr. Van Hollen were joined yesterday by other Democratic groups and politicians to protest what they called the president’s “invading” the county.

Derek Walker, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, called Mr. Bush’s reform plan “deceptive” and “dangerous,” saying it would ruin “one of the most important safety nets for the American people.”

Mr. Bush restated yesterday that no senior citizen now receiving Social Security benefits would be affected by reforms and said his opponents were using “shameless politics” to scare older voters.

“People ought to say, ‘Here’s what I’m for,’ not [talk about] what they’re against,” Mr. Bush said. “People ought to be willing to step up and lead, as opposed to playing partisan politics.”

Though Mr. Bush is sticking to his position that personal accounts are a crucial component of the reform, he also is welcoming congressional plans that do not include such accounts.

White House aides say the strategy should engage Democrats who have refused to enter the Social Security debate until personal accounts are taken off the table.

“I was pleased to see some members, Republican members of the House and the Senate, have started laying out ideas,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s time for the leadership in the Democrat Party to start laying out ideas.”

Audra Miller, a Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman, said Mr. Bush is tackling tough issues such as Social Security and energy while Mr. Duncan and Mr. Van Hollen “would rather protest and say no rather than offer a solution.”

Duncan spokesman David Weaver said Mr. Duncan did not attend the meeting yesterday because it was a “staged photo op.”

“It wasn’t a debate on Social Security,” Mr. Weaver said. “If we actually thought this was going to be a discussion … that would have been a different matter.”

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, now Richmond mayor, called Mr. Duncan’s protest “a little unusual.”

“It’s a calculated risk and it could backfire,” said Mr. Wilder, a Democrat. “It’s going to be interesting to see what [Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley] has to say about this.”

Mr. O’Malley is a potential rival of Mr. Duncan’s for the Democratic nomination in next year’s gubernatorial race.

A protest was also held outside the school before Mr. Bush’s appearance.

“Our school is almost all liberal,” said Logan Talbott, 14, a freshman. “We protest what [President Bush] has done.”

Christina Bellantoni, S.A. Miller and Bill Sammon contributed to this report.

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