Shreveport Times: ‘McCrery’s Social Security remarks stir controversy’

McCrery's Social Security remarks stir controversy

Shreveport Times (LA)
June 12, 2006

By Ana Radelat

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jim McCrery drew fire from Democrats and organized labor last week for saying the GOP should make Social Security reform a priority after November's elections.

At a policy luncheon at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, McCrery, R-Shreveport, said the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House have little political capital to tackle big issues such as health care or tax reform.

But Social Security, he said, "is easy to solve."

"It's certainly an issue that demands attention, and I'm hopeful that next year will provide us an opportunity to kind of go back to square one, start all over and come up with a Social Security plan that we can all embrace," McCrery said.

The Chamber supports GOP plans to overhaul Social Security, but Democrats and organized labor seized on McCrery's remarks as a sign Republicans are planning to resurrect an unpopular idea.

"McCrery spilled the beans about a topic Republicans have avoided discussing in the 2006 elections," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. "They know the American people -- in overwhelming numbers -- rejected the president's ill-conceived scheme to privatize the nation's most successful family protection program."

Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said McCrery's comments "confirm that the GOP-led Congress has the wrong priorities."

President Bush made a huge push to reform Social Security last year. He visited dozens of cities across the nation, including Shreveport, saying that if nothing is done, the huge trust fund that pays for the program will be depleted in 2017 because of the large numbers of retiring baby boomers.

But the president's idea that people should be able to take some Social Security money withheld from each paycheck and invest it in stocks and bonds drew sharp criticisms from those who said it would be too risky. Lacking support from GOP lawmakers, the reform campaign ground to a halt.

"We tried that last year -- didn't get very far," McCrery said. "That's an issue that simply is going to have to wait until after the elections."

Americans United, a Democratic group formed last year to combat Bush's Social Security initiatives, said McCrery shouldn't take for granted that the GOP will continue to control Congress after November's elections.

But McCrery, the leading contender to replace Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., as head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, did not say he supports privatization or private accounts.

"What I said is that we have to start out with a clean slate, with no preconceived notions," McCrery said. "And I said we can't do it without the Democrats."

The uproar over McCrery's comments was based largely on the politically charged atmosphere surrounding the issue of Social Security.

Without endorsing McCrery's comments, Nancy Thompson, spokesperson for the AARP, the nation's largest organization representing retirees, said she is grateful the issue has been resurrected.

"We're glad Social Security hasn't fallen off the radar," Thompson said.