GOP Rep. to Bush: Quit Dragging Feet on Social Security

Conservative Republican congressmen want action from the Bush Administration on Social Security reform. Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) warned Tuesday that House conservatives are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of a concrete proposal from President Bush to reform Social Security with personal retirement accounts. “A lot of us House conservatives believe you can’t beat nothing with nothing,” Pence told a gathering of journalists at the Heritage Foundation. “I really believe the time has come for the President of the United States to put a concrete proposal on the front doorstep of Congress and take that proposal in detail to the American people.” Pence, chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, supports a plan known as Ryan-Sununu, named after its sponsors, Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) and Sen. John Sununu (R.-N.H.). The White House has been coy about endorsing a specific proposal, but Pence said the lack of any Bush-backed plan is allowing Democrats to seize control of the debate. “There’s talk about phase one. Phase one is there is a problem. Phase two is the solution. I’m not quarreling with the [White House’s] marketing tactic, but I’m just saying I think many House conservatives want to get to phase two,” Pence said. “The unknown is always more frightening than the known, and it is advantage Democrats right now.” Pence has publicly clashed with Bush twice before: He voted against the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and led a revolt against the Medicare prescription drug entitlement in 2003 because both vastly expanded the federal government. Pence said he hoped a similar situation would be averted on Social Security. He said that’s one reason he wants Bush to take his case to the American people. “I have learned to never underestimate the persuasive abilities of President George W. Bush,” Pence said. “This President, with a bill under his arm, is almost an irresistible force.” But until that happens, Pence said, the White House will continue to face a skeptical public. He said Americans understand the problem, yet they haven’t been offered a solution. “I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been confronted at town-hall meetings by Americans who tell me about ‘the bill,'” Pence said, recounting a typical conversation. “You know, ‘What’s in the bill?’ What bill? I’m cosponsoring Ryan-Sununu, would you like to talk about that bill? ‘No, no, the other bill, the President’s bill.’ The President doesn’t have a bill. It goes on. It’s like Abbott and Costello, ‘Who’s on First?'”