Tuesday, May 3, 2005

“After You.” “No, After You.” “No, I Insist…”

The Republican mantra on Social Security reform has been that if the Democrats are going to complain so much about what Bush is proposing, perhaps they should come up with one of their own.

They might want to take their own advice.

President Bush’s effort to get Congress moving on Social Security by proposing cuts in benefits for high and middle-income retirees has exposed a fissure in the House Republican leadership.

Majority Leader Tom DeLay and many conservatives unhappy with the Senate’s cautious approach want a House bill on Social Security ready as soon as possible, while Speaker Dennis Hastert prefers to wait and let the Senate act first, according to Republican aides.

No sooner had Bush completed his news conference last week than the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee announced fresh hearings on Social Security legislation. In his zeal to act, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said the next day he wants his panel to produce a bill by early June.

Hastert, fearful of having his members take a stand unnecessarily, wants the Senate to act on a bill first, said the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. One said the speaker does not want the House to risk antagonizing voters before the 2006 midterm election by passing a tough Social Security bill that gets dropped in the Senate.

In addition, a top Republican pollster is urging party leaders to make job and economic issues their priority, rather than Social Security.


Democratic leaders in both houses have said they won’t participate in writing a bill until Bush jettisons the idea of letting younger workers divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into individual retirement accounts. That has drawn the ire of some conservative activists.

“Republicans in the House must rescue the Social Security debate from the clutches of the bean counters who have bewitched the administration and most moderate Senate Republicans into obsessing over solvency,” Steve Moore, president of the Free Enterprise Fund, said in a memo last month.

Hastert, R-Ill., issued a statement last week applauding Thomas’s hearings, but Republican aides said Monday the speaker’s enthusiasm is muted.

“We’re expecting the Senate to go first,” one aide said Monday.

Yes, that’s what the Republicans promised us — unified and strong leadership.