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GOP lawmakers vow to sell need for Social Security reform

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Stung by an onslaught of criticism by Democrats and media reports suggesting many Republicans lawmakers are not fully embracing President Bush's Social Security proposals, House GOP leaders Wednesday denied their members are shying away from the issue and vowed to increase their efforts to educate the American public on the need for reform.

Emerging from a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Texas, said there was "not one negative comment" by lawmakers about the president's plan to create new individual retirement accounts.

DeLay, who on Tuesday surprised reporters by complaining that his members did a poor job of selling the proposals during last week's congressional recess, Wednesday warned reporters, "I know you want to write the story that the members are afraid of this issue. Far be it from the fact."

But Republican leaders were not on the same page when they talked about how to write a bill that can win congressional approval.

Majority Whip Roy Blunt -- whose job is to corral the votes of Republican lawmakers -- said Bush's plan will win the day.

"We're absolutely convinced the president's proposals will be the best proposals, will make the most sense, and will be the proposals, as the year develops, that will be widely embraced by the American people," he said.

But House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- who has the tough job of crafting a balanced bill that can pass the conservative House and pick up must-have Democratic votes in the Senate -- said he is open to a variety of solutions, not just those presented by Bush.

"There's a lot of possible solutions. I wouldn't say A, B, and C are the solutions, or D, E, F are the solutions right now. We have to look at the alternatives," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist further complicated matters on Tuesday when he said floor action might be postponed until next year so President Bush and lawmakers could have the time to convince the public the reforms are needed.

House leaders have said they would prefer to pass the reforms this year so that next year -- when their members are up for re-election -- Congress can focus on another tax cut they think will be popular with voters.

"In terms of whether it will be a week, a month, six months, or a year, as to when we bring something to the floor, it's just too early," Frist said.

But the GOP leaders were lock step in their criticism of Democrats.

"It's incredibly irresponsible to try to convince the American people that there is no problem.," complained DeLay.

Hastert compared Democrats to ostriches.

"We could stick our heads in the sand like an ostrich and say, 'Well, you know, there's just not a problem. We'll just wait for other generations to try to solve this problem,'" he said.

Meanwhile, House Democrats, who oppose the individual accounts, are confident the public is on their side.

"Responsible, pay-as-you-go fiscal soundness strengthens Social Security," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said. "The president's proposal was frankly an insult to the intelligence of the American people. I think the response that he is receiving to it proves just that."


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