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The Tally Ho

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bush losing Social Security Battle

As Speaker Hastert said last year, controlling all the branches of government is hard work. Mike Allen and Charles Babington of The Washington Post write in their piece Social Security Vote May Be Delayed
The Senate's top Republican said yesterday that President Bush's bid to restructure Social Security may have to wait until next year and might not involve the individual accounts the White House has been pushing hard.

The comments of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), made as GOP lawmakers returned from a week of trying to sell the plan to voters, underscored the challenge facing the White House, especially in light of unbroken Democratic opposition...

...Frist is reluctant to put off a vote until 2006, when lawmakers will be focused on midterm congressional elections and the atmosphere will be more politically charged, aides said. But with polls showing widespread skepticism of Bush's proposal and some Republicans opposed to the approach, GOP leaders signaled yesterday that they may have no choice but to put off action.

That a politician as closely allied to the White House as Frist would even raise the possibility of putting off the proposal until next year -- possibly dooming it -- was an unexpected blow to the administration.

Putting off the vote until next year means that Mr. Bush's private accounts will be dead. There may be a funding bills to help "secure" social security, but Democrats should not play along with any tax increases with an election year as the GOP media machine will turn it into "Democrats increased your taxes and obstructed the President's agenda." Joe Biden made the Sunday morning talk shows and correctly announced that Medicare-Medicaid needed to be dealt with first. John Warner echoes this as written in the article.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said that at a meeting he conducted, "People [were] saying, 'Hey, wait a minute. Let's deal with this Medicare-Medicaid situation first. That's where my greatest pain is.' "

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said he supports the president's efforts, but added, "It's going to be a difficult thing to do at best."

Frist supports the president's proposal for creating personal investment accounts but acknowledged to reporters that the plan is in trouble. "I wouldn't take that off the table yet," Frist said.

In another sign of the difficulty in selling the package Bush has outlined, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a radio interview that he thinks workers should be able to divert only about half as much in payroll taxes to new personal investment accounts as the White House has suggested. Under Bush's proposal, workers younger than 55 who opt to participate in the program would be able to divert as much as 4 percent of income subject to Social Security taxation into individual investment accounts, beginning in 2009.

Grassley said on "The Diane Rehm Show" on WAMU-FM that under a restructured Social Security, young people are "going to be able to take maybe 2 percent, in my estimation . . . and start saving for retirement."

Bush and the Republican leadership have yet to agree on the specifics of remaking Social Security, but a detailed bill will be introduced Monday by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a maverick in his party who may run for president in 2008. Hagel has been developing a comprehensive plan largely in secret that includes the centerpiece of Bush's idea -- personal accounts that come from payroll taxes. Hagel's bill also addresses the future solvency of the system.

While the Democrats, especially the Senate are determined to let the GOP hang themselves on this issue, one Senate Democrat apparently didn't get the memo. Exhibit #1,468 on why Joe Lieberman needs a primary challenge. Too bad Connecticut doesn't have a big name on the bench because any Democrat from a "blue" state should be defeated for any deal making with Republicans on Social Security at this point. It is a bad plan, don't rescue it for them. As James Carvell once said, when your opponent is drowning don't throw him a life vest, throw him in anvil. Josh Marshall, Atrois, and the rest have been following this. By the way, this CNN Money article says that Mr. Bush's support for private accounts(they use fixing) and his reform ideas in general are at 38%.
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that the past week of public forums "has proven that the president's message is not selling."

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