- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

Leading Democrats yesterday said they would refuse to begin negotiations to stabilize Social Security unless President Bush’s centerpiece proposal — offering private accounts to younger generations — is barred from discussion.

“If the president is committed to destroying Social Security, which is privatization, then it doesn’t make much sense to get into a negotiation,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

“He drops the privatization, then you have an entirely different kind of circumstance. The fact is, privatization cannot be on the table,” Mr. Kennedy told ABC’s “This Week.”

“How can you negotiate with someone that wants to destroy it? Privatization is destroying Social Security. Democrats, this is our lifeblood, these are the things we care about,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois agreed with Mr. Kennedy, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “if the president takes privatization off, if he makes a commitment to the future of Social Security, we’re ready to sit down on a bipartisan basis and put everything on the table.”

“That’s the only way to start a good-faith negotiation,” he said, echoing remarks made by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday that the president must take “privatization off the board, period.”

Brian Jones, communications director for the Republican National Committee, released a statement after Mr. Kennedy’s TV appearance, describing it as “encouraging” because the Massachusetts Democrat “acknowledges Social Security is facing serious problems that need to be addressed now.”

“President Bush and Republican members of Congress are showing real leadership in addressing the challenges facing Social Security, and Democrats in Congress are beginning to join the vast majority of Americans who believe preserving Social Security for future generations is a top priority,” Mr. Jones said.

Meanwhile yesterday, a Republican senator said he would propose raising the age at which a person can receive full Social Security benefits from 67 to 68.

The plan by Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, which he said is the first Social Security reform bill being introduced in the Senate this year, would take effect in 2023.

“We are living longer,” Mr. Hagel said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “So when you look at the total universe of this, I think that makes some sense to extend the age.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and majority whip, also said he is encouraged that Democrats are signaling that Social Security is an issue that must be addressed this year.

“I think we ought to quit all the posturing and sit down and see if we can’t do something important and constructive for our children and our grandchildren,” he told “Meet the Press.”

“We can’t deal with any problem until we sit down on a bipartisan basis and start talking about it,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Bush this week begins a 60-day cross-country campaign to promote his proposal, which would allow workers 55 and younger to invest a portion of their 6 percent payroll tax in private investment accounts.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow also told ABC yesterday that private investments are key to reforming the system.

“We’ll never get a fair and equitable solution to the Social Security problem unless personal accounts are an integral part of the solution,” Mr. Snow said.

On Thursday, more than 40 Democratic senators led by Mr. Reid sent Mr. Bush a letter stating that as long as the private-accounts proposal is on the table, “we believe it will be impossible to establish the kind of cooperative, bipartisan process we need to truly address the challenges facing the program many decades in the future.”

On Saturday, Mr. Reid elevated his party’s demands and said there will be no negotiation to fix Social Security unless Republicans agree to kill the partial-privatization proposal.

“We are not going to negotiate with ourselves until the president takes privatization off the board, period,” Mr. Reid said.

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