Is Social Security the next "compromise"?

Will the filibuster deal pay dividends for President Bush's flagging Social Security plan?

By Page Rockwell
Published May 25, 2005 10:21PM (EDT)

With the Senate out of the woods (at least for now) on the controversy over the judicial filibuster, Republicans have started to express hope that the newfound spirit of partisan cooperation will pay dividends for President Bush's flagging Social Security plan. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., cited his desire to return to negotiations on Social Security as a primary reason for his agreeing to the filibuster compromise. "Social Security is falling apart," Graham said. "The reason I changed where I was at to where I am now is I think the Senate could do better if we started over the best thing for the Senate, for this country, is to be able to do business. Social Security is now possible."

In fact, when asked by "Hardball" host Chris Matthews whether he thought the filibuster compromise improved the chances of the president's privitization plan passing in the Senate, Graham sounded pretty optimistic: "It [now] has a shot versus no shot. And watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security... just keep watching."

Meanwhile, BusinessWeek reported this week that that some kind of deal -- possibly even one that would "include some form of personal accounts" -- is already underway. Apparently, "insiders see a quiet consensus developing around Reform Lite. Republicans seem increasingly willing to abandon Bush-style accounts and their opposition to any tax increases. And Democrats have privately expressed a willingness to accept benefit cuts and hand Bush half a victory rather than be seen as blocking needed changes."

Maybe that's why, even as public approval for his handling of the issue continues to wane, Bush still sounds so confident when talking up his plan. At an event in upstate New York on Tuesday, Bush warned lawmakers standing in his way: "I think more and more people recognize there's a problem and people are going to say 'Go do something about it.' And those who obstruct reform no matter what party they're in will pay a political price, in my judgment."

Though there may be another round of "compromise" in the works, on Wednesday, after the Senate Finance Committee held the latest in a series of hearings to draft a new Social Security plan, committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed frustration that there is still partisan gridlock on the issue. "We've not had much progress in the meetings we've had so far," Grassley said. The committee's ranking Democrat, Montana Sen. Max Baucus, seemed ready to block negotiations until private accounts are out of the picture: "The linchpin here is the president's private accounts," Baucus said. "Once they're off the table then I think there will then be a huge, or significant, groundswell."

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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