Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bush Social Security plan dead, Democrats say


Bush Social Security plan dead, Democrats say

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats say President Bush's plan to restructure Social Security is dead but vow to keep attacking it until he publicly drops the individual investment account idea.

"I think it's dead," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, echoing comments by other Democrats about Bush's plan to let workers invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds. "I think it's clear the votes are not there to be able to move that forward."

But with Bush showing no signs of giving up, private account opponents say they need to stay on the offensive.

"We're not going to leave any stoned unturned in trying to defeat privatization of Social Security," said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for Americans United to Protect Social Security.

His group has arranged town hall meetings, Washington protests and other events to fight Bush's plan. On Wednesday it joined forces with rural organizations to build opposition in farming communities.

The groups said they plan to carry their anti-privatization message to rural communities, arguing that people in those areas rely on Social Security more than others.

Democrats say they will not negotiate with Republicans on the underlying issue of shoring up Social Security's finances until private accounts are off the table.

As a result Republicans are struggling to craft legislation that would overhaul the popular retirement program.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley presented to his Republican members last week a variety of proposals to address Social Security's solvency including raising the retirement age.

He told Iowa reporters on Wednesday there is still no consensus among Republicans.

"It is all in the discussion phase, nothing has been decided," Grassley said. He added he hoped to have legislation ready in July.

In the House of Representatives, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, a California Republican, is crafting broad retirement legislation that would encourage additional retirement savings as well as address Social Security.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, would not predict when lawmakers would have legislation.

"There is no set timetable," he told reporters. "I can't say it's going to be done by August 1 or September 13. But it's an issue for us, something we're looking at and something that we continue to work on."