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Frist Hints of Sacrifices In Social Security Changes

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2005; Page A02

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said yesterday that Americans might need to "take some medicine" to fix Social Security, and said he would consider a plan being floated by the White House that would reduce scheduled benefits.

White House officials, in promoting President Bush's idea of allowing younger workers to open personal stock accounts with part of their Social Security taxes, have raised the possibility of changing the formula for Social Security benefits so that they would rise with the rate of inflation rather than wages, which tend to grow faster than inflation.

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Social Security

Frist, a potential candidate for president in 2008, said on ABC's "This Week" that he wants "everything pretty much on the table" as he begins talking to Democrats, including adjusting benefits to price inflation instead of wage inflation.

"I think good policy makes good politics, ultimately," Frist said. "I think if we show boldness in addressing the issues now, and not in a catastrophic way five or six or seven years from now, but right now have people take some medicine, it'll be to the benefit of all Americans."

White House counselor Dan Bartlett, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," resisted discussing specifics of how Bush would solve the problem, but spoke against eliminating the cap on the maximum taxable wage, which could be portrayed as a tax increase. "My understanding of the math shows that that only fixes the problem for four years," he said. "So that is not a long-term solution in and of itself."

Asked about the possibility of raising the retirement age for future generations, Bartlett said, "The details of this are going to be worked out between members of Congress and President Bush."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on NBC that Democrats "believe in individual retirement plans as a supplement to Social Security," whereas Republicans "believe in individual retirement plans as a way to supplant Social Security."

"What we can't do is take the guaranteed retirement benefit for seniors and replace it with a guaranteed fee for Wall Street," said Emanuel, a former managing director of an investment bank.

Democrats jumped on a report in yesterday's New York Times that a strategic communications plan of the Social Security Administration urges managers to "discuss solvency issues at staff meetings" and "insert solvency messages in all Social Security publications."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that the Social Security Administration "must not be used to undermine Social Security."

Bartlett said there is "no expectation that career employees would be asked to advocate on behalf of any specific prescription for Social Security."

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