- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

Club for Growth President Patrick J. Toomey yesterday said that large numbers of House Republicans will oppose a Social Security bill that does not include private accounts as President Bush has structured them, likely spelling defeat for any such proposal.

“I could easily see 100 Republicans in the House voting no,” Mr. Toomey said of possible reform legislation with personal retirement accounts added on to Social Security instead of diverted from the program’s payroll tax, along with other measures such as tax increases.

Mr. Bush and Republicans such as Mr. Toomey, a former Pennsylvania congressman, want to allow workers to put a portion of their payroll tax into personal retirement accounts. Democrats and some Republicans oppose the idea, and there has been notable interest in creating “add-on accounts,” which wouldn’t use payroll funds.

House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, aims to craft a broad bill soon that includes Social Security reform as well as improvements to areas such as pensions, Individual Retirement Accounts and long-term health care.

He’s expected to produce it much earlier than expected, said reform advocates who cite Ways and Means Committee officials as their sources.

“I’m expecting it sooner rather than later. We’re getting all sorts of hints from a variety of [committee] sources that they are working away at fashioning a complete package,” said David John, the Heritage Foundation’s chief Social Security analyst, adding that legislation likely will contain some form of Mr. Bush’s private-accounts idea.

Another high-ranking Heritage official who maintains close ties to the committee’s Republican leadership said Mr. Thomas will begin moving a bill after July 4, aiming for a House vote before the August recess.

Mr. Thomas thinks a broad retirement package will attract more support, but Mr. Toomey said it won’t work, because it will create more pieces to oppose and more cover for members to vote no.

But if Mr. Thomas moves a private-accounts bill, he will get no Democratic votes and lose some Republican votes, too, predicted Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, which sponsored a national conference this week for liberal activists.

Mr. Hickey said that in the end, neither the House nor the Senate will vote on Social Security legislation this year.

Liberal activists at the conference yesterday said their organized campaign to defeat Mr. Bush’s private-accounts proposal is working.

Americans United to Protect Social Security has targeted Republican lawmakers who haven’t said whether they support Mr. Bush’s ideas. Members were invited to state their position at local town hall meetings this week. Those who declined faced protests or empty chairs at the meetings.

Such events were held against Reps. Vito J. Fossella of New York and Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, while Rep. Mark Green of Wisconsin faced protesters Tuesday, said William McNary, president of USAction.

Louisiana Republican congressmen this week faced a giant inflated gorilla outside their state offices, representing the huge issue they don’t want to face. Mr. McNary said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, accepted their invitation and said she won’t support private accounts if they increase the deficit.

Donald Lambro contributed to this report.

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