House Democrats intend to propose a retirement-savings plan today that will be their first leadership-backed alternative to Republican plans for a broad retirement-security package, which includes changes to Social Security.
The Democratic plan, called AmeriSave, would increase incentives for middle-class workers to participate in 401(k) retirement accounts and individual retirement accounts. It would also create tax credits for small businesses that set up retirement accounts for their employees.
While Democrats have debated whether it is in their interest to propose an alternative to President Bush's plan to add individual accounts to Social Security, Republicans have asserted that the Democrats have no plan. House Democrats say they will not issue a Social Security plan until Bush takes any form of privatization off the table.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said her party is "fighting to strengthen and safeguard Social Security's guaranteed benefit but more must done so that every American has the opportunity to build a secure retirement." She said the plan "will build retirement security by expanding opportunities to save and guaranteeing workers receive the benefits that they have been promised."
The AmeriSave announcement is designed to partially preempt Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who plans to focus on retirement security in September. Bush had proposed adding individual accounts to Social Security for younger workers, but the idea did not win public support. He has now started talking about his plan as "senior security."
Thomas has long said that he wants to deal with Social Security as part of a comprehensive retirement package that would cover savings, pensions and Social Security.
Thomas said July 19 at the National Press Club that he will turn intensively to retirement security in early September, and that he is ready with new proposals.
"The decision was made, and probably rightly so, that we shouldn't just put the thing out and then go away for a month and then come back and deal with it," Thomas said last week. "So I'm just going to sit on it until we come back in September and then examine it and discuss it and vote on it."
With Congress headed out of town at the end of this week for a break that lasts through Labor Day, House Republicans are holding an event today to remind people of their proposal to earmark the surplus in Social Security funds, which are scheduled to continue until baby-boomer retirements increase, for use in individual Social Security accounts.
That measure, known as GROW accounts, does not help with Social Security's solvency, which Bush had said was his reason for focusing on the issue. Thomas's staff has been working on a way to improve the system's solvency, but the House leadership is reluctant to push that because they worry it could be unpopular with voters before next year's midterm elections, and it is not certain the plan will be offered, House aides said.
An outline of the Democratic plan said it would "dramatically increase the number of people investing in 401(k) accounts by encouraging employers to automatically enroll eligible employees into 401(k) or other retirement plans unless the employee chooses not to participate." Thomas also favors requiring workers to opt out rather than opt in.
Democrats said their plan would "increase 401(k) benefits by triggering the employer-match for 401(k) accounts sooner."