Social Security Gamble

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jan 17, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- A daring proposal that would make Social Security reform an election-year gamble is contained in a late draft of President Bush's State of the Union address to be delivered Tuesday night.

As he did last year with Medicare, Bush would take a thematic approach to Social Security rather than spell out specific legislation. In this case, the president would not attempt passing a bill this year authorizing individual personal contributions. Bush wants the issue debated in the 2004 campaign, prior to going before Congress in 2005.

Key House Republicans, headed by Speaker Dennis Hastert, have urged the White House not to touch Social Security. Nevertheless, presidential aides say Bush is determined to go ahead.

SAVE YOUR EARMARK

As the Senate prepared to vote on the massive omnibus appropriations bill Monday, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens sent selected Republican senators copies of the measure with attachments of earmarked spending in their respective states.

Two senior Republican senators -- John McCain and Chuck Hagel -- are threatening to vote against the measure because of earmarks that they consider pork barrel spending. McCain has clashed repeatedly with Stevens over earmarked appropriations added to bills without hearings, debate or approval by the administration.

Opposition by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle means the bill may fall short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is considering a last-minute change in the bill on foreign food-labeling regulations that would satisfy Daschle and other farm belt Democrats.

CALIFORNIA GOP JOY

George W. Bush's political managers in California were stunned last week when a Republican statewide poll by Adam D. Probolsky showed a 15 percentage point lead among likely voters by the president against Democrat Howard Dean.

The poll shows 50.9 percent for Bush to 35.4 percent for Dean in a state widely considered hopeless for the president. Probolsky gave Bush the edge over Dean even among women, 46.8 percent to 38.5 percent.

Those findings boost claims by investment banker Gerald Parsky, who heads Bush's 2004 California campaign, that Democrats could lose the state essential for their national chances. Republican campaign strategists generally argue that Bush will enjoy a landslide if he wins the nation's most populous state, obviating the need for a special effort in California.

POLITICS OF ANGER

While Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean yelled at a critical voter in Iowa last Sunday, Sen. John Kerry demonstrated calm when faced with a similar provocation in New Hampshire four days earlier.

An unruly woman interrupted Kerry with critical comments at the VFW hall in Merrimack, N.H. The senator answered politely, contending that dissent is part of democracy. A voter there commented that "Dean's face would have been purple with anger under those conditions," and that is what happened Sunday in Iowa.

A footnote: Dean's Web site claims that, as governor of Vermont, he inherited unemployment worse than the national average. Actually, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that when Dean took office in August 1991, Vermont's jobless rate was 6 percent compared with 6.9 percent nationally.

LABOR'S JUDGE

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler of Washington, D.C., one of organized labor's favorite jurists, has given unions a political boost by blocking implementation of new financial regulations during 2004.

Stringent new reporting requirements for unions were supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, providing rank-and-file union members more information about political activity by their leaders. On New Year's Eve, Kessler granted the AFL-CIO's request for a temporary injunction stopping the new requirements from going into effect.

A former National Labor Relations Board lawyer and Democratic congressional staffer, Kessler as a D.C. Superior Court judge excused the local teachers union from paying fines assessed for an illegal strike. After President Bill Clinton named her to the district bench in 1994, she upheld Clinton's ban on striker replacements and stopped release of AFL-CIO campaign finance records.