Vote on U.S. Social Security revamp may be delayed
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON, July 13 (Reuters) - Congressional action on one of President George W. Bush's top priorities, restructuring Social Security, will likely be delayed until later this year, Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Wednesday.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third ranking House Republican, told reporters that other pressing matters including trade, highway and energy legislation will push back until at least September consideration of plans to establish private Social Security accounts.
"We've got heavy work to do on the floor this month," Blunt told reporters, adding that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, a key figure in Social Security legislation, also has a big role to play in the other issues before the House.
Lawmakers had talked about voting on revamping Social Security before lawmakers leave for the month of August. But Blunt said he thought the House would vote on Social Security legislation this year, possibly in September.
Thomas has been crafting broad retirement legislation that would include incentives for savings as well as a pared-down plan for individual Social Security accounts.
The California Republican took issue with Blunt's assessment on timing of House action, curtly telling reporters that "some of us are capable of multi-tasking."
DISPUTE OVER TIMING
The dispute over the timing underscores the difficulty Republican leaders face in trying to restructure Social Security in the face of solid opposition by Democrats.
Bush has proposed allowing workers to put a portion of their Social Security taxes in accounts that would be invested in stocks and bonds. But Bush has had trouble building public support, and Democrats have demanded private accounts be taken off the table before they negotiate with Republicans on shoring up the retirement program's long-term finances.
House Republicans are backing an alternative that would use temporary Social Security surpluses to finance smaller accounts that would initially be invested only in U.S. Treasury bonds.
The pared-down plan was offered last month as a way to build support for individual accounts by tapping public anger over Social Security surpluses being used to finance other government programs and mask the size of the deficit.
Senate Republicans are also struggling to bring Social Security legislation to a vote. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa plans a crucial meeting with his fellow Republicans on Thursday to decide whether a bill was possible.
"If there is not some clear movement on personal accounts tomorrow, then I think the chances of having a meeting the last week of July to work on Social Security will not come about as I had planned," he told Iowa reporters on Wednesday.
Grassley said even if committee Republicans reach agreement on legislation, they may not move forward in the face of solid Democratic opposition to individual accounts.
"The lack of bipartisanship gives a lot of Republicans cold feet to move ahead," he said.