WASHINGTON -- President Clinton urged members of both parties yesterday to be flexible as they seek a solution to Social Security's long-term financial woes, but he laid out no specific proposal for one of the most ideologically charged and politically sensitive issues facing the country.
Opening a two-day conference on Social Security, Clinton said the country needed to have an honest debate about the difficult choices involved in shoring up the retirement system.
"In the end," Clinton said, "all of us in some sense will have to sacrifice our sense of the perfect to work together for the common good."
Clinton has so far avoided backing any specific plans for fear of drawing so much fire from Republicans that no compromise would be possible. Republicans say he must go first if there is to be any chance of finding common ground.
Conservative groups say the overhaul should include private investment accounts through which individuals would invest in stocks and bonds. Liberal groups said the country should not tinker in any major way with a social insurance system that has worked well for more than six decades.
Yesterday's session brought both parties together with administration officials to move what so far has been an academic debate into the first tentative efforts at negotiating a political deal. The effort continues today, when 12 administration officials meet with 48 members of Congress behind closed doors at the White House.
Several proposals establish "add-on" individual accounts. Under such a proposal, the current system would remain intact, financed by the 12.4 percent payroll tax. The new system would then add mandatory private accounts for each worker, financed by an additional levy on wages.
Republicans say the add-on proposals amount to a tax increase, although the idea's supporters say it would not be a tax since workers own the accounts where the levies are placed.
Many Democrats do not like the idea because it creates individual accounts. But, packaged in the right way, it could meet the core principles laid out by both parties -- maintaining the current guaranteed benefit program for Democrats, and moving toward an individually based, investment-driven approach for Republicans.
Pub Date: 12/09/98