Thursday, April 20, 2006

Defying Senators, Bush Renames 2 Social Security Public Trustees

The New York Times
Defying Senators, Bush Renames 2 Social Security Public Trustees

WASHINGTON, April 19 — President Bush reappointed the two public representatives on the board of trustees for Social Security and Medicare on Wednesday, defying Senate leaders of both parties.

The appointments clear the way for the Bush administration to issue its annual reports on the financial condition of the programs, which together account for more than one-third of all federal spending.

The White House announced that Mr. Bush had granted "recess appointments" to the public trustees, John L. Palmer, former dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, and Thomas R. Saving, an economist at Texas A&M.

Under the Constitution, a president can "fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate." Mr. Palmer, a Democrat, and Mr. Saving, a Republican, were first appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. They can now serve until the end of the next session of the Senate, in late 2007.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and its senior Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana, had urged Mr. Bush to find other candidates. They did not criticize Mr. Palmer or Mr. Saving, but said they wanted fresh perspectives on Social Security and Medicare.

Senators Grassley and Baucus said they were disappointed with Mr. Bush's action and still hoped that he would find other candidates.

"Now that the impasse is cleared," Mr. Grassley said, "I hope the White House will nominate new people so we can return to the goal of having fresh faces on the board."

Mr. Baucus said Mr. Bush had chosen to "ride roughshod" over the Senate.

"The White House has failed to consult in good faith with Congress on new nominees for these positions," Mr. Baucus said. "Public trustees for Social Security and Medicare have never served more than one term. It is vital to have new blood and fresh thinking for these programs so critical to all Americans."

The public trustees are supposed to make sure that the assets of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds are properly managed. They also try to ensure that the administration's annual reports to Congress are as reliable and objective as possible. Lawmakers use data from those reports in debates on the programs.

Four administration officials are also trustees. Although the public trustees come from different parties, they usually work together and issue joint statements.

In their next reports, the trustees will provide information to help answer such questions as is the long-term financial outlook for Social Security as dire as Mr. Bush says? How costly is the new prescription drug benefit? Are these programs sustainable in their current form?