A GOP Alternative On Social Sec.

Social Security, retirement worries, 1-29-04
A senior House Republican with long experience in Social Security matters outlined legislation Thursday that jettisons two controversial elements in President Bush's plan in an attempt to court Democratic support.

"I think politically it's the most salable," Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., said of his alternative, although he conceded neither the White House, the House GOP leadership in the House nor any Democrat has yet to lend backing.

Shaw said his measure would meet two key goals outlined by President Bush in his State of the Union speech last week, creating private accounts while placing Social Security on a path toward permanent solvency. But unlike the administration's blueprint, it does not rely on payroll taxes to fund the individual accounts, nor does it envision cutting promised benefits for future retirees.

Shaw outlined his alternative as Mr. Bush made stops in two states in an effort to reassure congressional Republicans that tackling Social Security won't end their political careers.

"I believe candidates are rewarded, not punished, for taking on tough issues," Mr. Bush said, during an appearance Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. "I say that to give assurance to the members of Congress who may feel somewhat fearful of taking on the issue."

The president has yet to win a single Democratic convert and clearly has more work to do among lawmakers of his own party.

Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., said that despite a presidential sales pitch delivered in person on Wednesday, "I will have problems" if the eventual legislation relies on payroll taxes to finance personal accounts.

Asked whether the issue could cost him his seat in 2006, Simmons, who represents a competitive district, said, "I could lose my seat over almost everything."

Other Republicans privately acknowledge that by giving Social Security such prominence, the president leaves them little choice but to act.

"We've all grown up hearing about that third rail," said Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., referring to a widely held, long-standing belief that the issue could prove politically fatal.

"Well, we're grabbing onto it with both hands."

Democrats have been nearly unanimous in expressing opposition to key concepts of Bush's plan.

"Once the public knows about the slash in benefits that are necessitated ... , there is very little support for privatization," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

A former chairman of the Social Security subcommittee, Shaw said his legislation would make every worker eligible for a personal Social Security account, funded by the government at up to $1,000 a year. Individuals would make their own investment decisions from options of varying risk.

At retirement, a worker would automatically receive 5 percent of the funds in the account. The retiree could then choose either a monthly benefit based on the amount remaining in the private account or the traditional Social Security benefit promised under current law.

Retirees who choose the traditional benefit would lose the money remaining in their private account. Those funds would revert to the government's Social Security trust fund.

Shaw said his plan would cost the Treasury $3.4 trillion over 30 years, but that gradually, the amount of money credited to the Social Security trust fund would more than offset the cost of funding the personal accounts. At the end of 75 years, he said, the program would have a $4.6 trillion surplus.