Grassley: No Soc. Sec. Change Before 2009

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 9, 2005; 6:32 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush made it the keystone of his domestic agenda, but he'll probably be gone before lawmakers turn their attention to Social Security again, a key lawmaker says.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley said he's "very pessimistic" that lawmakers can overhaul Social Security during the president's second term in office. Upcoming midterm and presidential elections will get in the way, he said.

"Probably, the next bite at the apple of Social Security will come in 2009," the Iowa Republican told an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

"If I can do it tomorrow, I'll do it tomorrow," he added.

The White House said the program's long-term financial problems should force lawmakers to pay attention sooner. Spokesman Trent Duffy said the president doesn't see upcoming elections as an obstacle and will keep pushing for change.

"The president said he's going to continue focusing on Social Security because, as we all know, the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes," he said.

Bush used this year's State of the Union address to highlight his ideas for a Social Security overhaul, and embarked on an intense campaign to sell directly to voters the idea that workers under age 55 should be allowed to divert some of their Social Security taxes into personal investment accounts. He even visited the Parkersburg, W.Va., filing cabinets that store government IOUs that are supposed to finance future retirement needs.

Under official estimates, the Social Security trust funds are scheduled to begin paying out more in benefits than they receive in payroll taxes in 2017, and the trust funds would be exhausted entirely in 2041. That would mean reduced benefit checks for future retirees, unless changes are made in the system.

Democrats stood virtually unanimously against Bush's plans for the private accounts, and Republican lawmakers struggled to build support for the plan. Grassley said he worked for months but couldn't get consensus among Republicans on the Finance Committee.

Bush acknowledged the lukewarm reception among lawmakers for enacting Social Security legislation this year, telling reporters, "It's a long-term problem that's going to need to be addressed. When the appetite to address it is _ you know, that's going to be up to the members of Congress."

Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means panel that oversees Social Security, said proposed overhauls shouldn't be written off until the nation has a new president.

"I don't share that level of pessimism," he said. "Eventually, I think the two parties, or representatives of the two parties, will get together to work something out."

John Rother, policy director at AARP, said he's not ready to assume it will be years before Congress looks at the issue. The senior citizens lobbying group opposed the president's plan for personal accounts.

"While the Social Security debate is quiet for now, it could come back any time," he said.

Derrick Max, executive director of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, called Grassley's prognosis "overly pessimistic." His group is a coalition of businesses that want to see the proposed private accounts enacted.

"I still think there's a chance early next year," he said.


On the Net:

Senate Finance Committee: http://finance.senate.gov

Social Security Administration: http://www.socialsecurity.gov

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/social-security

AARP: http://www.aarp.org/money/social_security/

© 2005 The Associated Press