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GOP lawmakers: Final action on Social Security unlikely this year

Associated Press
Published March 2, 2005

WASHINGTON - After a week sampling public sentiment, Republican congressional leaders said Tuesday they still support President Bush's plans to remake Social Security but said final action may not be possible this year.

"This is the mother of all issues," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

DeLay, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and other GOP lawmakers said Bush's public campaigning has begun to show results. "People have bought into the fact that we have a problem" with Social Security's future financing, said Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

At the same time, they said Bush has much more work ahead of him to build support for his plans for personal investment accounts as part of a bill to make Social Security solvent for the long term.

"The president will have to stay out there and lead on it, when a lot of political figures want to run and hide and when you have a lot of people who say there's no problem," said Frist, R-Tenn.

Republican leaders began surveying their rank-and-file after a weeklong absence from the Capitol.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, said "I don't think the Republicans are very happy about the position the president is putting them in."

Bush is scheduled to travel to six states over the next two weeks, and many more in the weeks that follow as he labors to build public support for an overhaul of the Depression-era government program. Republicans said they hoped that by the time he is finished, the president will have produced a public groundswell for legislation, forcing at least some Democrats to reconsider their opposition.

Frist and DeLay declined to give a timetable for legislation.

"My goal is to have it on the floor" this year, Frist said.

At a news conference, DeLay told reporters there is enough time to complete work on Social Security this year. Later, though, he was less than definitive on the prospects. "I hope so," he said when asked whether legislation can pass this year. "We're shooting to get it done this year."

Bush has said his plan would guarantee that Social Security benefits would remain unchanged for retirees and workers age 55 and over. Younger Americans would be allowed to invest a portion of their payroll taxes on their own. In exchange they would receive a lower government benefit than they are now guaranteed, on the assumption that the proceeds of their investments would make up the difference.

[Last modified March 2, 2005, 00:48:07]

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