GOP jumping ship on private accounts?

Faced with united Democratic opposition and a public wary of privatization, Senate Republicans are talking about Plan B.

Published April 8, 2005 1:53PM (EDT)

If George W. Bush's plan for privatizing Social Security isn't dead yet, it's on all sorts of life support -- and this time, Senate Republicans are the ones who may pull the plug. The Associated Press reports that Republicans in the Senate are "considering temporarily sidetracking President Bush's plan for personal investment accounts under Social Security, hoping Democrats will then join compromise talks on legislation to restore the program's solvency."

United opposition from Democrats -- and a lot of skepticism from Republicans -- has Bush's plan for private accounts stalled and sinking. But as the AP explains, Republicans on Capitol Hill are "wary of leaving the impression they intend to abandon the president's proposal to allow younger workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes independently" -- even if that's exactly what they're fixing to do.

"The attempt . . . has always been to find Democrats to come on board with a bipartisan plan, and what has been stopping this is the issue of personal accounts,'' an official familiar with the Republicans' discussions told the AP. While the words presumably came from the mouth of a Republican, they sound like Harry Reid's talking points. The Senate minority leader has said all along that Democrats won't work with Bush on Social Security until he puts aside the idea of private accounts. If Republicans are now seriously considering discussions of Social Security reform without the private accounts, call it a victory -- at least for now -- for Reid and the Democrats.

And while Republicans can say that they're tabling the private accounts just long enough to deal with the solvency issue, they've got to know that the private accounts will be an even tougher sell than they have been when Bush can no longer couple them with worries about Social Security's fiscal health. If Bush can't get private accounts through Congress amid all his talk about Social Security's bankruptcy, he can't get them through Congress at all.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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