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