Social Security panel ducks fire from all sides

The Washington Post And The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration’s Social Security commission on Tuesday approved a gloomy assessment of the nation’s retirement system and faced a firestorm of partisan criticism as it headed toward the trickier job of proposing a plan for putting the program on sound financial footing.

Despite intense opposition from Democrats in Congress, organized labor and other groups, the commission adopted a report saying that Social Security faced demographic pressures that would overwhelm its ability to pay full benefits if no changes were made.

Members of the commission, all appointed by President Bush, said any solution should include the president’s proposal to create personal investment accounts within the system.

In an uncommonly vitriolic exchange for a presidential commission early in its work, panel members called their opponents "know-nothings" and "Luddites." In turn, California Rep. Robert Matsui, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, called on President Bush to "throw out this commission that has no credibility" and begin direct, bipartisan negotiations over Social Security’s future.

"We’ve got a shooting war that’s started now, and it’s only going to get worse," said David John, a Heritage Foundation policy analyst who shares the administration’s goals for changing the system.

The steady criticism from the administration’s opponents in the week since the commission released a draft of its report had some effect on the commission.

One co-chairman, Richard Parsons, vice chairman of AOL Time Warner, said he had been wrong call Social Security "broken" in a preface to the draft report, which was released last Thursday. Parsons said a better description was that the system was "not sustainable" if no changes were made.

The commission is expected to endorse a plan that would allow workers to invest part of their Social Security payroll taxes in stocks and bonds. Members of the commission have also said they expect to recommend some painful changes, such as cutting benefits in order to shore up Social Security over the long run.

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