- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

With two Supreme Court vacancies and a massive hurricane-relief effort dominating the agenda now, senators said they don’t think they will act on Social Security legislation this year, which would be the final blow to President Bush’s signature domestic issue.

The Senate was already having major problems agreeing to a Social Security proposal — even Republicans couldn’t agree on whether a bill should include the Social Security private accounts Mr. Bush has pushed for. With recent events, members on both sides of the aisle said chances of action are even more unlikely.

“It’s off the radar,” said Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, adding that hurricane relief is much more important now, and Social Security is an issue “we’ll eventually deal with” down the line, though not likely this year.

“Social Security? I think not much is going to happen there this year,” agreed Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican.

“I can’t imagine President Bush is going to go back to it,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said of Social Security.

“That is not likely to be part of any future agenda in Congress,” he said, clarifying that he meant not the near-future agenda at least.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he will continue talking to his colleagues to try and reach agreement on a Social Security bill, but conceded the issue now ranks about fourth or fifth on his agenda. His top priorities now are crafting Hurricane Katrina relief legislation, helping fellow Judiciary Committee members fill the Supreme Court vacancies, dealing with must-pass spending bills, addressing budget-reconciliation legislation, and then tackling Social Security.

Mr. Grassley said House passage of a Social Security bill might provide the Senate yet another opportunity to act, but noted even House action isn’t certain. “They may not move,” he said. “But if they do move, that gives us another bite at the apple.”

It’s been anticipated that the House would take the lead on Social Security legislation this fall. Last week, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said he still hopes to move a retirement-security bill this fall that includes voluntary personal accounts, but he also hedged by saying a floor vote can’t be guaranteed until the House Ways and Means Committee produces a bill.

Behind the scenes, rank-and-file House Republicans are divided on whether or not it’s wise to act now. Last week, Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, a strong supporter of Social Security reform, said House Republicans would likely spend the next few weeks hammering out strategies on hurricane disaster relief, gas prices and illegal immigration. “In that mix, we will need to decide whether we’re going to move forward on Social Security or not,” he said.

Some Senate Republicans still say action is possible in their chamber this year.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said the issue probably “has to be deferred for a while,” but isn’t dead yet, since there are a group of senators who really want to get something done this year. “It’s going to be tough, but I think there’s a chance,” he said.

Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican, agreed action is indeed possible this year, predicting the Senate will produce a bill that begins to fix Social Security’s long-term financial problems, but doesn’t include personal accounts.

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