WASHINGTON – The Senate Finance Committee served notice Monday that the panel will go ahead with plans to vote on a Social Security overhaul plan by June or July with or without Democratic support.
Finance committee aides disclosed the committee would begin by holding a hearing Tuesday on four separate Social Security proposals, in hopes that forcing Congress to focus on details of solving Social Security’s financial problems will stem the strong tide of opposition.
The decision to go ahead with hearings on specific Social Security proposals, with the prospect of an ultimate up-or-down vote, represents a strategic shift by the GOP and the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Not only would the new tactic highlight Democratic opposition – which Republicans have characterized as obstructionism – but Republicans hoped it would narrow the nature of the debate by putting it in the legislative arena.
Still, the effort is shaping up as a major salvage operation by Republicans and something of a gamble by Grassley. President Bush’s plan to restructure Social Security – by using a portion of workers’ payroll taxes to finance personal accounts – has met with strong opposition from Democrats and lukewarm support from the American people. His 60-day blitz to garner support for his plan has yet to produce results; in fact, support in some polls has declined and some GOP members of Congress are nervous about it.
According to many political observers, the proposal appears all but dead. Former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said recently that the GOP should be looking for an “exit strategy” for overhauling Social Security. Falling stock prices have also undercut support for personal accounts because some of the money in those accounts would be invested in the stock market.
In the meantime, rather than favoring the Bush plan, House Democrats have begun to support new incentives that would allow Americans to increase their retirement savings outside of Social Security – such as in 401(k) plans and Individual Retirement Accounts.
Despite the Senate Finance Committee’s hope that hearings could alter the negative mood against Social Security reform, there was no sign Democrats would bend in their opposition to the president’s proposal. They have said they would not negotiate any Social Security solution unless Bush’s plan for personal accounts is dropped.
Finance Committee aides said holding a hearing on the four plans would illustrate all the elements required in overhauling Social Security.
Members would have many options that might not include personal accounts, they said.
Grassley indicated last week that he would work with committee Republicans to produce a bill in hopes that some Democrats would drop their opposition when the measure is debated on the floor.