How Social Security Overhaul Plays in Congress

Mike Pesca reviews both congressional Republican and Democratic responses to President Bush's proposed Social Security overhaul.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And elsewhere on Capitol Hill today, something else no one agrees on: Social Security. It's the main focus of hearings today by the House Ways and Means Committee. DAY TO DAY's Mike Pesca is with us with this primer on where the two parties stand on this issue.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

The Social Security debate is confusing--you know that--but the politicians also know that and their words take advantage of the confusion. President Bush can say under his proposal, `No one gets less money,' and a Democratic opponent like Senator Harry Reid can say, `Under the president's plan, retirees will be taking home less than they would if we don't monkey with Social Security.' And guess what? Neither man would be a liar. Here's why. Right now the benefits retirees are scheduled to receive under Social Security increase each year. They don't just increase for inflation. They do better than that. They don't just increase at the same rate as prices do. They do better than that. Their increase is pegged to the increase in wages. Talk of benefit cuts may sound like that in the future there'll be less cash in a retiree's check than there is today. Not the case. What is true is that the increase under President Bush's plan will not be as much as the scheduled increase is right now.

The plan President Bush backs is referred to as progressive indexing. It's a sliding scale where the richest people's benefits would be pegged to prices. Those on the bottom 30 percent would have the same wage peg benefits they enjoy today. Everyone in between would get an increase, somewhere between the percent rise in the prices and the percent rise in wages. It's a starting point, President Bush says, as is the idea that some form of private accounts be included in whatever Social Security plan is passed.

There's not only a Republican-Democrat divide. There's a House-Senate waiting game. Bill Thomas, who's the Republican chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has the idea that if we wrap Social Security up in a big retirement bill, it may go down easier. The proposal will either have enough honey in it to enlist Republican and Democratic support or enough vinegar to inspire a bipartisan turkey shoot. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

CHADWICK: Thank you for that, Mike.

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