By Hans Nichols
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) waded into Republican territory yesterday, releasing a whip count of 29 Republicans he says are on record opposing “all or major parts of President Bush’s plan” for Social Security reform.
Given the GOP’s 14-vote margin in the House, Hoyer reasons that Republicans will need to initiate a more serious conversation with Democrats if they are nursing any hopes of passing a plan this session.
Hoyer’s cross-aisle whipping is indicative of the Democrats’ swelling confidence that the Social Security debate cuts in their favor and tracks with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel’s (D-Ill.) strategy. He has been attempting to brand vulnerable GOP lawmakers who appear open to the president’s proposal, despite their stated opposition to privatization, as “flip-floppers.”
Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told her colleagues in a closed-door meeting that Democrats should not “shoot until we see the whites of their eyes,” according to a leadership aide.
Republicans acknowledged that there are divergent views in their party but disputed Hoyer’s whip count, arguing the he had tied generic statements opposing “privatization” with blanket opposition to allowing some younger workers to divert a small portion of their payroll taxes into personal accounts.
“If Steny Hoyer did more complete research, he would find a lot more than 29 that are against privatization,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“Almost every Republican in the country in the last two cycles has said they are against privatization. Everyone from [former Rep.] Tim Penny [D-Minn.] to [the late Sen.] Daniel Patrick Moynihan [D-N.Y.] has said that personal accounts are not privatization,” he added.
Recognizing the existence of different views among GOP lawmakers, Dan Allen, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), remained optimistic. “We are having good debates within our conferences, and we know that we will come together to address Social Security reform,” said Allen.
“The facts are this: The Democratic leadership has been stuck in neutral from the beginning,” he added.
At his weekly gathering with reporters yesterday, Hoyer provided reporters with statements, drawn from press accounts, from 29 GOP lawmakers, with some of them voicing general opposition to “privatization” and others offering explicit rejections of “personal accounts.”
Hoyer said, “It has on here 29 names of individuals who have categorically said to their constituents we will not support privatization of Social Security, or personal accounts, or taking money out of Social Security.”
“If these 29 people were telling their constituents the truth, there are not the votes to pass the president’s outline,” he added.
Burson Taylor, spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), questioned Hoyer’s whipping. “In Mr. Blunt’s discussions with members, including those on Mr. Hoyer’s list, there is a great willingness to look at this new idea,” she said.
“That’s just semantics. What the president is proposing is privatization of Social Security. Members are on record saying they will not support such a plan,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, Hoyer’s press secretary.
Privately, many Democrats say they win every time Republicans are forced to defend personal accounts by denying that it is “privatization.”
Hoyer’s salvo is one of many Democratic strategic attacks that aides say will be increasing. Pelosi has dispatched members of her “30-something working group” to GOP congressional districts to challenge Republican lawmakers to a debate on Social Security. For several months, Pelosi has been working with grassroots organizations from around the country, such as the Alliance for Retired Americans and AARP, on educating voters about the president’s proposal.
And over the Presidents Day recess, House Democrats will be hosting more than 200 town hall meetings, replete with slide presentations and information on how the president’s proposal will affect Hispanics, African-Americans and people with disabilities, a Pelosi aide said.