WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sen. Lindsey Graham, the aggressive freshman Republican from South Carolina, had waited long enough and last week acted on his own, without a green light from a displeased White House. He began circulating among senators and House members of both parties a letter that is intended to radically reduce violence in the bitter Social Security wars. "This is a ceasefire declaration," Graham told me.
Addressed to the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic campaign committees in both houses, the letter promises, "We will no longer turn a blind eye to political attack ads that accuse responsible reform advocates of wanting to dismantle Social Security or slash benefits of current retirees." Contending that "it is time for the demagoguery to stop," signers of the Graham letter "pledge to defend" all candidates "who support Social Security modernization."
Circulating the letter with Graham are two moderate congressmen -- Democrat Charlie Stenholm of Texas and Republican Jim Kolbe of Arizona -- who have sought such non-aggression pacts in the past. The most important signatory so far is Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, the centrist Democrat who often tips the Senate's balance of power. Even if only Breaux and a few other Democrats accept the ceasefire as expected, that undermines the party's relentless attack on Social Security reformers.
When a copy of the letter arrived at the White House last week, there was consternation rather than jubilation -- mainly because it calls on President Bush to do something well beyond present plans. "It is time for this Congress and this president to solve the problems plaguing Social Security," the letter declares. "Inaction is no longer an option. The longer we wait to take the necessary reforms, the harder the task becomes."
That admonition does not fit George W. Bush's timetable. In re-election plans being delicately tuned by the president's team, politically risky reforms -- especially Social Security -- are postponed until after the 2004 election. Indeed, circulating the ceasefire declaration without advance notice to the White House or its approval reflects unspoken frustration with Bush's domestic policy by Graham and other conservatives.