President Bush's main architect charged with reforming Social Security today sounded resigned to moving forward on small changes both Republicans and Democrats can agree on instead of the massive program once envisioned by the White House.
"We need to fix this problem," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told reporters at a newsmaker roundtable this morning. But he said that with both sides eager to fight instead of debate the issue's major problems, it's best now to move on the fronts where there is agreement instead of simply giving up. One of those issues he indicated would not be worked on is the administration's goal of individual retirement accounts, in part because Democrats worry about how those would be affected by poor stock market conditions. He also said that solving the issue can't be done unless there is a bipartisan solution.
"I'm not naive; I'm not going to tilt at windmills," he says, explaining why he isn't pushing for a new debate on massive, Bush-styled reform. Paulson described himself as a lonely soldier in the effort to battle for Social Security reform, one of the major issues he came to Washington to work on. He said that he has been encouraging ideas from all sides, but so far, "I've been playing solitaire."
To break the logjam, he plans to have Treasury start issuing papers on topics that both political camps agree on with the hopes of pushing through some changes.
I agree that he's been a very lonely soldier--there are only handful of people in the Executive Branch (maybe as few as three) keeping this alive. The post specifically says, "the fronts where there is agreement." It does not say compromise. Reinforcing this, the post says that individual accounts will not be part of the reform at this point. As I've thought of them, individual accounts might be a right-of-center policy that is so important to conservatives that they would be willing to give up something to get them. (See this prior post and the LMS plan itself.)
I was not aware that there were "fronts where there is agreement." Maybe this working relationship has now produced some. We'll all be waiting for those Treasury White Papers to tell us.