- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

House Republican leaders say there is broad support in their ranks for the new idea to use Social Security’s surplus to create private accounts, and members were told yesterday to tout the idea at home and expect a vote on it as early as July.

“All of them agreed that this is a step we can take right now,” House Majority Whip Roy Blunt said after Republicans were briefed on the Social Security proposal in yesterday morning’s conference meeting. “It’s a great proposal. It’s a proposal we can move forward independently and will move forward independently.”

The Missouri Republican later clarified that he expects the new idea will move as part of a larger retirement security package, but that the House can and will move forward independently of what the Senate does. He said the new idea would have enough votes to pass the House and members were told that could happen next month.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, was positive about the new idea but cautious, too, saying, “The most important thing is we’re bringing ideas to the table.”

House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio said members were told yesterday to go home and sell the new idea over the July Fourth recess — through town hall meetings, editorials or however they feel most comfortable.

“It’s important that members talk about it over break,” she said, noting members were given talking points and trained on what language to use.

The messages coming from rank-and-file Republicans leaving the morning meeting were clear — the new proposal’s idea to save the Social Security surplus is popular with the public, the plan is “a first step” toward permanently fixing Social Security, Republicans are back on the offensive and Democrats have no answer.

“We’ve got the Democrats on the run. What are they going to do — they’ve got no plan,” said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican. “A lot of [Republicans] were calling for a vote,” he said of the new proposal’s reception in yesterday’s meeting. “Right now it looks like a winner.”

“It’s Stop the Raid, it’s ownership, and it’s transparency,” Mrs. Pryce said of the proposal’s selling points.

But Democrats said the plan, far from being transparent, is the same harmful personal accounts idea, slyly repackaged. “The House Republican leaders must think the American people are suckers if they think they will believe that their new plan stops the raid on Social Security,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. He said it doesn’t stop the raid at all, and simply “starts privatization.”

The new plan would dedicate Social Security’s annual surpluses, which will exist until about 2017, to voluntary personal accounts for workers 55 and under.

For the first three years, accounts would contain government bonds, meaning government could continue spending the actual cash on other programs, as Mr. Rangel contends. But then an independent board could decide to diversify the accounts into stocks as well, at which point the surplus would be off the table for good.

Not all Republicans are sold on the idea either.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, said any plan should include a fix for Social Security’s long-term solvency problem — which the proposal doesn’t do. And Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, said centrists also have “questions” about how the plan would work in later decades.

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