- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

House Republican leaders, who weeks ago pledged to take the lead on Social Security, still say they will act this fall, but the party remains divided, as some of their members push for a personal accounts bill, some want a broader package and others don’t want to act at all.

“We hope to put a bill together,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, describing a likely retirement security package that includes personal accounts.

The Texas Republican, however, said he can’t guarantee a floor vote until the Ways and Means Committee approves the bill. His statements were more forceful several weeks ago, when he and other leaders pledged action.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, has insisted on his broad retirement package, which emphasizes pension reform and private savings.

It is expected to include a Social Security proposal, introduced by Republican Reps. Jim McCrery of Louisiana and E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, that would use the system’s surplus to create voluntary private accounts.

Some Republicans and outside advocates would like a vote on the McCrery-Shaw bill by itself, and a few last week said House leaders have decided unofficially to do that.

“From my conversations, they agree this is the best strategy,” said Larry Hunter of the Free Enterprise Fund, arguing that such a tactic would pressure the Senate and give House Republicans a concrete and popular proposal to take to constituents.

But Mr. DeLay said Friday: “If it’s done, it will be done as part of the retirement security package.”

Supporters of the accounts proposal say Republicans remain divided.

“You still have a lot of members in the House that don’t want to pass anything only to have the Senate sit on it,” said Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, one of the few Republicans to address the issue during the August recess. “You have others who want a vote so they can vote yes, and then blame it on the Senate.”

Mr. Shaw said his constituents liked his proposal once he explained it, and that Republicans will decide whether to proceed in the next few weeks, perhaps after a vote behind closed doors.

“We need to take the temperature of the conference,” he said.

After talking with Mr. Thomas in July, Mr. DeLay said he expected a Social Security bill ready in late September or October. But members, aides and advocates noted that Social Security action likely will wait so that Congress can deal with relief to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, appropriations, budget reconciliation and immigration.

Opponents of private accounts feel confident.

“We come into the fall in a position of strength. The public has overwhelmingly rejected … private accounts,” said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for Americans United to Protect Social Security.

“There are a large number of Republicans who want this cup to pass from their lips, and yet the House Republican leadership seems to be convincing itself that this is an easy vote,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future.

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