The Third Rail Still Holds a Charge

From Holden:

Rank-and-file Republicans are understandably gun-shy.

Stung by a spate of rowdy, critic-packed town hall meetings about Social Security over the Presidents’ Day break in February, Republicans shied away from such open forums during the two-week Easter recess. Instead, they stuck mainly to workshops in which administration officials did most of the talking and lawmakers stepped up to answer a few questions after lengthy presentations from Bush appointees.

The lawmakers’ reluctance to take center stage is emblematic of the back seat that members of Congress have chosen to take in the debate over Social Security. With the year one-fourth over, lawmakers have so far served largely as bystanders in a campaign for a retirement-system restructuring that is being driven by the White House, the Treasury Department and the Republican National Committee — along with business allies that have spent more than $10 million on the effort.

While their leadership continues to offer nothing but pessimism and criticism.

“My view now is that if we don’t happen to get this done in 2005 . . . this will be a political issue in 2006 — talking about the problem,” said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who will be responsible for lining up votes for a Social Security bill. “We’re learning to talk about this; the president’s driving the issue. I think we’re a long way from out on this particular deal.”

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) pronounced the effort so far a failure and said the message has been “too complex and Washington-centered.”