Senate Republicans bicker over Social Security while Senate Democrats remain serenely united.
A badly divided Senate Finance Committee yesterday held the first hearing examining President Bush’s efforts to restructure Social Security. While the Democrats remained united in their opposition, there were signs of cracks in the Republicans’ support for the president.
Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) questioned the wisdom of adding trillions of dollars in federal debt in the coming decades to finance the president’s plan. And Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) seemed to signal intractable opposition to converting part of the defined Social Security benefit to variable returns from stock and bond investments.
“Social Security became the bedrock of support for seniors in my state precisely because it’s defined and guaranteed,” she said. “What cost and what risk is it worth to erode the guaranteed benefit?”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters after the hearing that he is determined to press forward with Social Security legislation, even if it passes out of his traditionally bipartisan committee with only GOP votes. Republicans on the panel will meet in two weeks to begin hashing out legislation that Grassley hopes could eventually bring some Democrats on board.
But he did not express much hope. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is not likely to bring a partisan bill to a vote in the full Senate because any Social Security change will need 60 votes to pass, he said. To get Democratic votes, Grassley said, he could drop the centerpiece of the president’s plan, the creation of private investment accounts through the diversion of Social Security taxes. But doing that would cost him critical Republican support, he said.
“I could fail,” he conceded. “If we can’t get some Democrat support, I do fail.”