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Key Republican urges stall on Social Security

David Espo Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The head of the House Republican campaign committee is urging fellow GOP leaders to drop plans for Social Security legislation this year, citing potential repercussions in the 2006 elections, officials said Thursday.

In the latest blow to the White House on the issue, Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., conveyed his views Wednesday in a meeting with Speaker Dennis Hastert as well as a larger gathering of Republican lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee, officials added. Reynolds is chairman of the House Congressional Campaign Committee.

The officials who described the conversations spoke only condition of anonymity, saying the sessions were private. Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for Hastert, declined comment. NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said, “We don’t comment on closed-door meetings.”

It was not immediately clear what impact Reynolds’ views would have on Hastert and other GOP leaders, who vowed jointly in late June to place a Social Security bill on the floor this fall.

At the same time, it was yet another – and possibly fatal – setback in a long line of them for what once was the centerpiece of President Bush’s second-term agenda. In last winter’s State of the Union speech, Bush asked Congress to pass a plan to create personal accounts under Social Security while shoring up its financing.

Reynolds met Wednesday night with Hastert for a review of the political landscape, making clear his views on Social Security, according to one official. Two other Republicans said he had outlined his views on Social Security at a meeting with Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee.

According to one official who attended the meeting with committee Republicans, Reynolds told the group that the congressional agenda now has been expanded to include legislation relating to Hurricane Katrina and that public attention also has turned to high gasoline prices.

At the same time, the New York Republican told the group it would be difficult for Republicans to mount an effective public relations campaign on behalf of controversial Social Security legislation.

He expressed concern about forcing potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents to cast politically difficult votes on the issue, particularly when it appears unlikely the Senate will act this year.

In addition, recent polling has shown Bush’s approval ratings at a low point for his presidency.

The administration’s original blueprint would have involved steep reductions in planned future benefits for workers under age 55. It failed to generate significant support from the Republican-controlled Congress.

After weeks of maneuvering, House Republicans have said in recent weeks they intended to put a dramatically reduced version of Bush’s proposal on the floor of the House this fall as part of a broader measure.

That bill, which Rep. Bill Thomas, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been writing, would include changes in pension law and incentives for greater personal savings.

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