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In GOP, Resistance On Social Security

Still, a number of Republicans note neither Bush nor any congressional Republican has won on a specific plan to change the retirement system, especially one that called for cuts in benefits.

"Why would you go home tomorrow having cut benefits in Social Security for a problem that might happen in 25 years?" said Gingrich, who supports private accounts but opposes benefit cuts to pay for them.

Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) is wary of reshaping Social Security: "Why stir up a political hornet's nest?"

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Some Republicans question whether Bush's victories had anything to do with Social Security. A post-election survey by Pew found that Social Security was named by 1 percent of voters as the most important or second most important issue in deciding their vote.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late December found that 1 in 4 Americans thinks the Social Security system is in crisis, and the percentage that says the country is facing a Social Security crisis has gone down, not up, since 1998.

"I don't buy the partisan argument that Republicans benefit by somehow carving up this Democratic program," Kristol said. He contended it could undermine other GOP initiatives, such as making Bush's tax cuts permanent, because it would sap money and the president's political capital.

Simmons said that few constituents cite Social Security as a major concern, and that numerous GOP colleagues say the same in private.

Sensitive to such charges, Bush today will host an event featuring Americans of all ages talking about why the program must be restructured immediately. Vice President Cheney, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, and Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, are planning similar events this week, as the White House seeks to reassure Republicans.

Yesterday, the House Republican Conference invited GOP press secretaries to a Friday "Social Security Briefing" with a New York consultant who helps corporations sell products and has conducted research on Social Security messaging

Staff writer Jonathan Weisman and polling director Richard Morin contributed to this report.

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