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Political Battle Over US Pension Reform Likely to Intensify


The political battle over President Bush's plan to revamp the U.S. government pension system known as Social Security is expected to intensify over the next few weeks.

President Bush is about half way through a 60-day effort to build public support for his proposal to reform the government pension program known as Social Security.

Among his most recent stops was the Midwest state of Iowa, which has a large proportion of elderly residents. "I am talking about Social Security because I see a problem, and I believe the job of the president is to confront problems and not pass them on to future presidents or future Congress'. That is what I think you elected me for," he said.

The centerpiece of the president's plan is a proposal to allow younger workers to divert some of the taxes they pay toward their pensions into private retirement accounts that could be invested in the stock market.

But Democrats appear united in their opposition to the Bush plan, and that opposition could intensify as Congress returns to work after a two-week Easter recess.

Democrats have enlisted a wide range of special interest groups to lobby against the proposal, including labor unions and retiree organizations.

Richard Trumka is secretary-treasurer of one of the nation's largest labor organizations, the AFL-CIO. He recently spoke out against the president's Social Security plan on the C-SPAN public affairs television network.

"First of all, there is no crisis in Social Security. We have time to study this, and so it is much more important for us to think about this and get it right, than it is to try to rush through some kind of solution," he said.

Concern over the president's plan is not limited to Democrats. Some Republicans are nervous about public opinion polls that suggest growing majorities disapprove of the president's approach to Social Security, even as he campaigns on the issue around the country.

Given the poll numbers, some political experts say the time may have come for the administration to consider a compromise.

Larry Sabato is director of the Center For Politics at the University of Virginia. He compares President Bush's struggle for pension reform to former President Clinton's efforts to revamp health care in the mid-1990s.

"Bill Clinton got nothing at all after putting all his marbles [political capital] into the health care basket [reform proposal]. The same thing could happen to George Bush, if the White House does not, in the very near future, move towards some kind of compromise on Social Security," he said.

Despite the concerns, White House officials insist the president is determined to press for Social Security reform this year. They also cite public opinion polls that indicate the president has succeeded in raising awareness about the uncertain financial future of the Social Security program.

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