WASHINGTON – Key House Republicans scrambled Tuesday to craft Social Security legislation that sidetracks the most controversial elements of President Bush’s plan, officials said, the latest sign of unease with the administration’s campaign for personal accounts financed from payroll taxes.
Even so, a White House spokesman insisted that Bush remains committed to his call for personal accounts. “He is not” retreating, said Trent Duffy.
Bush has called for personal accounts, financed from a portion of payroll taxes, to be included in a broader bill that achieves long-term solvency in the Depression-era program. Public opinion polls have shown tepid support at best for the accounts and for the principal alternatives to achieving greater financial solvency – raising the retirement age, curtailing benefits or raising taxes.
In the House, a handful of Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee arranged for a news conference today to discuss legislation that officials said would leave Social Security finances untouched. The emerging bill “doesn’t deal with solvency,” according to one aide, indicating that it avoids politically difficult issues of curtailing benefits or raising taxes.
The bill sets aside surplus Social Security trust fund money – expected to disappear in 2017 – for personal accounts, a significant departure from Bush’s call for funds nourished annually from payroll taxes. Under current law, any payroll tax money not used to finance monthly benefits is in effect loaned out by Social Security to the Treasury, which uses it to finance other government programs.