Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush was steaming Tuesday when he was described as backing away from personal retirement accounts as part of Social Security reform after lunching with Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah.
Bennett, renowned as one of the Senate's best minds, has abandoned personal accounts while trying to win Democratic support for Social Security reform. President Bush intended, he now says, only to encourage Bennett's reform efforts -- encouragement he has given all Republican lawmakers. Bush told aides to contradict news media accounts, based on Bennett's briefing, and affirm that he had not given up on personal accounts.
A footnote: The White House is genuinely supportive of a plan announced Wednesday by several Republican members of Congress. The plan, led by Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, would retain Bush's personal account concept in a different, smaller format.


 Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin may never have apologized for his remarks about the Guantanamo detention camp had his fellow Illinois Democrat, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, not described his comments as a "disgrace."
Durbin did not personally call Daley, but his frantic staffers were on the phone to the mayor's office Tuesday asking that Daley tone down or even retract what he said. Daley made clear he would do no such thing.
Durbin's staffers claimed that the senator's expression of regret the previous Friday should suffice, but the mayor insisted on a full-fledged apology.


 Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants quick Senate passage this summer of the House-approved embryonic stem cell research bill -- sending it to the White House for President Bush's veto -- rather than the protracted debate desired by many social conservatives.

 Sen. Rick Santorum, third ranking in the party hierarchy as the Senate Republican Conference chairman, is a social conservative who supports Frist's move. Santorum faces an uphill fight for re-election against Democratic State Treasurer Bob Casey. As a vigorous foe of human cloning and federally financed embryonic stem cell research, Santorum would like as little Senate debate as possible because the votes are overwhelmingly against him.

 Many Republicans, apprehensive about the 2006 election outlook, recall that Democrats suffered at the polls after President Bill Clinton's 1997 veto of a bill banning partial-birth abortion.


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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