Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, breaking his estrangement from the White House, praised President Bush on Tuesday for attempting to fix Social Security and said Democrats were wrong to oppose any discussion until Mr. Bush drops his personal retirement accounts plan.

Mr. Hoffa said preserving Social Security’s long-term solvency and pension retirement reform were major concerns in his 1.4-million-member union and that he was willing to work with the administration and the Republican majority in Congress to come up with bipartisan solutions to both issues.

His words of praise for Mr. Bush’s efforts were seen as another sharp break with the AFL-CIO and its president, John Sweeney, whose policies and leadership are being challenged by Mr. Hoffa and several other major unions.

“Social Security is a major problem in this country. We have to make sure that it’s preserved for those that come after us,” Mr. Hoffa said in an interview with Gannett News Service. “I think President Bush should be given credit for the fact that he has initiated a debate regarding what we should do.”

The once-cozy relations between the Teamsters union leader and the White House have been virtually nonexistent over the past couple of years, and Mr. Hoffa campaigned against Mr. Bush’s re-election. But some White House advisers saw Mr. Hoffa’s words of support for the president’s efforts as a calculated move to show that the Teamsters are willing to work more closely with the administration and Republicans on issues of mutual interest.

“I think it’s a huge olive branch to the White House and I hope the White House grabs it,” said Derrick Max, executive director of a coalition that is lobbying for Mr. Bush’s reform plan.

The White House did just that yesterday, saying, “We welcome his comments and hope that it’s a sign of things to come.

“This is the latest influential voice on the Democratic side that has urged Democrats to come forth with a plan,” White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.

Although he does not support Mr. Bush’s proposal to let workers invest part of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts, Mr. Hoffa said, he disagreed with Democratic leaders who say they will not join any effort to work out a solution until the president abandons his personal account plans.

“He said that was not his position,” Teamsters political director Mike Mathis told The Washington Times yesterday.

While Mr. Hoffa was entering the Social Security debate, the program’s chief actuary, Stephen Goss, warned the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday that the Social Security fund will face declining payroll tax revenues sooner than previously thought.

“In the 2005 trustees report, the intermediate projections indicate that the annual excess of tax income over program cost will begin to decline in 2009, and in 2017 cost will exceed tax income,” Mr. Goss told the panel.

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