Parties Split over Social Security; Vision Called 'Bold,' 'Roulette'

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Democrats said last night they will try to work with President Bush where they can find common ground, but said the vision he laid out in his State of the Union address for Social Security will not be one of those areas.

"The Bush plan isn't really Social Security reform. It's more like Social Security roulette," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, as he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, delivered the Democratic response.

"Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings. But that doesn't mean taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it. And that's coming from a senator who represents Las Vegas," Mr. Reid said.

Others were more blunt.

"What a crock," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, who called it "one of the most fundamentally dishonest speeches I've ever heard."

And Rep. G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat, said Mr. Bush was wrong to use his high-profile speech that way.

"There's no question that Social Security needs reform, but to send a signal to the American people that it's going bankrupt is irresponsible and wrong. ... To put savings in risky investments is not a good idea," he said.

Republicans, though, said Democrats are ignoring the realities of the issue.

"The Democrats have offered nothing to the debate thus far. They want to deny that there is even a problem," said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, who marveled at the Democrats who shouted a chorus of "no's" when Mr. Bush talked about optional savings accounts for younger workers.

"Why would a Democrat be against giving young workers choice? " Mr. Cantor said.

Republicans praised Mr. Bush for a "bold" vision and for showing "courage" in tackling the Social Security issue.

"When you demonstrate the moral leadership the president has, people will respond," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "Strengthening Social Security isn't just an attractive policy proposal, it's a moral obligation, and this Congress will meet our obligation to the American people."

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, compared Mr. Bush's remarks favorably to former President Bill Clinton's speeches, saying that unlike the Democrat, "President Bush has shown us time and time again that his State of the Union addresses are more than great speeches. …