With their disputes only deepening, House and Senate lawmakers agreed yesterday to put off action on Social Security restructuring again -- this time until September at the earliest.
The most recent in a series of meetings by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee broke up yesterday with no progress on the central issues that have stymied the panel all summer. In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) remains at odds with GOP leaders over his push to secure the long-term solvency of Social Security.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) had vowed to push a Social Security bill to a committee showdown this month. But with Thomas already signaling a delay until the fall, Finance Committee officials said they will follow the House's lead.
"There are competing demands for the time of senators and House members, so work will probably continue well after the August recess," Grassley said in a statement. ". . . I won't give up trying to bridge the divide."
Finance Committee Republicans continue to disagree on over the basic approach to President Bush's Social Security proposals. Moderate Republicans have suggested dropping Bush's proposed private investment accounts and focusing only on closing the gap between Social Security benefits owed and Social Security taxes to be paid. But conservatives say the emphasis should be on the accounts and will not accept legislation without them. Committee Democrats remain on the sidelines, refusing to negotiate until they get a commitment from House leaders and the White House that personal accounts are no longer under consideration.
"Nothing has changed. They're stuck," said a Senate GOP leadership aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Finance Committee members said yesterday they have not given up hope of a breakthrough, but some allowed that time may be running out. This fall, the Senate must approve a broad package of entitlement spending cuts, a tax cut authorized by this year's budget resolution and Congress's annual appropriations bills. The Senate will also have at least one Supreme Court confirmation battle on its hands.
As chairman of the Finance Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley will be involved in the entitlement fight, the tax cut and the Supreme Court battle.
"We're now thinking we will have to let the House go first," the leadership aide said.
But the House is not in much better shape. A leadership aide said Thomas does not have a bill ready for committee action, and GOP leaders remain reluctant to push a vote on any legislation that would cut promised benefits or raise taxes.