Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) became the latest presidential candidate to stake out his ground on Social Security reform, proposing to reduce Americans' retirement checks in the future but allow people to try to make more money through the stock market.

The plan set forth yesterday by the House Budget Committee chairman seeks to keep the Social Security system from running out of money in a few decades by setting retirees' benefit levels based on the inflation rate, rather than growth of wages. The switch would mean that the typical worker who retires in 2030 would get about $32,000 a year from the investment of payroll taxes in the conventional Social Security plan, rather than $41,000.

But Kasich says his plan would give most people a more secure retirement, because they would be allowed to devote some of their Social Security taxes to private investments that tend to reap higher returns than the government's system. Those with the lowest incomes would be allowed to invest up to 3.5 percentage points of their payroll taxes, while the more affluent would be permitted to invest 1 percentage point. Neither aspect of his proposal would affect current retirees or working Americans who are 55 or older.

Kasich's approach makes him the only Republican to design a plan for salvaging Social Security that features the traditionally Democratic idea of providing the greatest help to the poor.

Kasich said in an interview that he was pessimistic Congress would act this year. In the meantime, he said, "I'm hoping it's at least going to raise the bar on all the candidates for national office . . . to say what they're for."

For '00 Election, a '99 Primary?

The mad juggling of the 2000 primary calendar continues, and it may even back up into 1999.

Michigan and South Carolina both have maneuvered to increase their influence in the early going. The Michigan legislature has sent Gov. John Engler (R) a bill he has endorsed advancing their primary by a full month, to Feb. 22. Partly in response, the South Carolina Republican executive committee shifted the date of its primary forward a week, to Feb. 19. GOP leaders in both states proclaimed their voters will have even more influence this way.

But wait. New Hampshire law requires that its voting take place at least one week before that of any other state. The New Hampshire primary had been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 15; but yesterday Secretary of State Bill Gardner said: "The latest date for us now becomes February 8. That will probably affect Iowa." Iowa had set its caucuses for Feb. 7 but traditionally has held them eight days before New Hampshire -- which in this case would mean Jan. 31.

Then there is Delaware, whose leaders had picked Feb. 19 for their primary. Yesterday, both Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole joined the list of candidates who promised New Hampshire officials they would not compete in any primary held less than a week after New Hampshire. But will Delaware share the 19th with South Carolina?

One thing is for sure. New Hampshire intends to remain the first primary. Yesterday the state House voted 329 to 5 to move up the filing deadline for its primary to Nov. 19 of this year and to remove the language from its law requiring that its primary be held "in the year in which the president is elected."

Gardner said, "I don't think it will be necessary, but we can hold our primary before Christmas if it comes to that."

Coelho Leaves Private Sector

Tony Coelho has resigned as chairman of ICF Kaiser International Inc. because his new job as head of Vice President Gore's campaign demanded all his time. The Fairfax-based engineering company, which also has interests in construction, said yesterday that the former California representative would remain on its board of directors for an unspecified transition period.

Staff writer David S. Broder contributed to this report.