Liberal interest groups fighting President Bush’s plans to overhaul Social Security have decided against publicly declaring victory in the debate, after congressional Democrats cautioned that Republicans might yet find a way to pass legislation.
Americans United to Protect Social Security, an umbrella group created by Democrats and labor unions to oppose Bush on the issue, decided at a meeting Thursday morning with Democratic congressional aides and allied interest groups that it “would stop short of declaring victory over privatization at this time,” according to a participant.
Democrats derided Bush’s plans to create individual investment accounts within Social Security as “privatization” of the government pension plan. They have argued that it would weaken Social Security and result in lower benefits for many future retirees, claims that polls show have resonated strongly with the public. For months, polls have shown significant public opposition to Bush’s proposal.
The president has called for the creation of investment accounts for workers younger than 55 using part of Social Security’s payroll tax revenue and slowing the growth of retirement benefits for most future retirees. While individual accounts are popular with many Republicans, they are opposed by almost all Democrats.
Americans United has seen its fundraising slow as legislation to create individual accounts has stalled and the issue has slipped from the forefront of the congressional agenda. Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the group, said Wednesday that the group’s leaders were considering declaring victory in order to continue framing the debate and prevent Republicans from letting Bush’s proposal die quietly.
But congressional Democratic aides told the group at Thursday’s meeting that they still expect Republicans, particularly in the House, to pass an individual accounts bill if given a chance.
Republicans “have run into trouble because it’s a bad idea, but they don’t give up easily on bad ideas,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. “We remain vigilant.”
Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., will not say whether he plans to advance what he calls a “retirement bill” later this year. Earlier in the year, he announced that he expected his committee to vote on the bill — which would include individual accounts — before August, but neither the legislation nor a vote ever materialized.
If Thomas ever seeks a vote on his bill, it will likely be as part of a pension overhaul measure (HR 2830) that was approved by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in June. Ways and Means must sign off on the bill before it can be put to a floor vote, giving Thomas an opportunity to attach Social Security and other retirement savings measures.
While many GOP lawmakers have said Social Security is a dead letter at least for this year, business lobbyists and conservative interest groups backing individual accounts have not surrendered. One such group, FreedomWorks, held a rally Thursday morning at the Capitol to push for legislation.
“Americans United to Protect Social Security . . . is trying to declare the fight over reform ‘dead,’” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said in a statement. “They couldn’t be more wrong.”