National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds will recommend to the House Republican leadership that the party drop its effort to restructure Social Security, at least for this year, House Republican aides confirmed yesterday.
Reynolds's move, first reported yesterday on the Web site of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, is fresh evidence that Hurricane Katrina is having a dramatic impact on the GOP's agenda. House and Senate leaders had already pushed off consideration of cuts in taxes and entitlement spending until the end of October. President Bush's tax reform panel has delayed release of its recommendations.
Now, Social Security legislation, which already faced a steep uphill climb, might be shelved indefinitely. Senate Republican leaders had decided they could not move on Social Security until the House did. But with the Senate at a stalemate, House political strategists want to pull back as well.
"With everything else that Congress has to deal with, from Katrina to immigration to . . . who knows, there's just so much on the plate, never mind that the Senate is bogged down in [Supreme Court] confirmation hearings," said a House GOP strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the full House leadership has yet to render a final decision. "Why would you want to make vulnerable members take a vote on something that's not going anywhere? You could make the case that it would be suicide."
Reynolds (R-N.Y.) made his stand in a showdown with House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), according to two witnesses. At a committee luncheon Wednesday, Thomas told panel members he was pushing forward with broad retirement security legislation that would include measures to strengthen private pensions, promote personal savings and add private investment accounts to Social Security.
Reynolds then stood to say he would recommend to the leadership that it do no such thing.
Thomas would not comment on the events. "I don't talk about closed-door meetings or what went on in closed-door meetings, and if someone who was in a closed-door meeting did, they're doing a great disservice to their colleagues," he said.
Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he could not confirm the events either. Until Reynolds makes his agenda recommendations to the full GOP leadership, Forti said he would not discuss Reynolds's views on Social Security.
But he did not deny the report.
"It's more than just Katrina," said a different House Republican aide, pointing to sky-high gasoline prices, anger over the war in Iraq and President Bush's sagging approval ratings.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pointed out other factors: Republican lawmakers' own low approval ratings and continuing struggles with ethics questions.
David John, a proponent of Social Security private accounts at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Reynolds's views are well known but hardly the last word. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the previous NRCC chairman, was also a vocal opponent of Social Security legislation, arguing that it could be politically disastrous.
"This is pretty much business as usual at the NRCC," he said.