WASHINGTON – The senator in charge of trying to put President Bush's Social Security (search) ideas into law says his colleagues "all want it to go away."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (search) said that despite their reluctance, he's not giving up on Bush's top domestic priority.
"Nobody really talks too much about Social Security," Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday. "They all want it to go away. I'm not going to let it go away."
A fellow Republican on Grassley's committee, which is charged with producing a bill, gave a bleak assessment of the issue's prospects.
"Little more than just talk," said Sen. Gordon Smith (search), R-Ore., when asked about the status of Social Security legislation. "I think that people are talking, but nothing's moving."
Last week, a group of House members led by Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., and a group of senators led by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., outlined proposals to create private investment accounts with surplus Social Security taxes.
Smith said all negotiations have been stymied by the Democrats' lockstep opposition to personal accounts, first proposed by Bush. Unlike the proposals presented last week, the president's accounts would be funded by diverting a portion of the payroll taxes that workers send to Social Security to pay the benefits for retirees.
Democrats argue that the accounts would require benefit cuts, steep government borrowing and shift the philosophy of the program from one that provides a guaranteed check to one offering benefits subject to the whims of the investment markets.
Smith has refused to endorse or oppose the Republican proposals, saying he wants to review a complete plan before expressing his opinion. Another Republican on the Finance Committee, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, has stated her outright opposition to the accounts, leaving a united Democratic minority in the position to block a committee recommendation for any of the GOP plans.
Smith conceded Grassley could use committee rules to release a bill without a formal vote, but "that creates additional perceptional difficulties." Grassley would not say whether he would resort to parliamentary tactics to release a bill, but he did not dispute Smith's assertion that the committee appears deadlocked.
"I'd guess I'd have to agree with you," the chairman said, starting to chuckle.
Grassley said the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is reviewing an alternate account proposal from his committee, but he would not provide an outline of it. He said he hoped to have his committee produce legislation before Congress takes its summer recess at the end of July.