Entitlement, tax reform the focus of GOP retreat

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Republican members of the House and Senate turned their attention to the politics of changing the tax code and the lessons of President Bush's campaign yesterday, the second day of a party retreat here.

Party leaders and White House officials gathered at the Greenbrier resort also discussed a new rhetorical twist in their campaign to remake Social Security. In meetings on Friday, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Rep. Bill Thomas of California, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, discussed redirecting public attention on 2008 as an imminent danger point for the Social Security trust fund because baby boomers will begin retiring, even though even the most dire analyses say the fund will remain solvent for a decade or longer after that.

House Republicans heard a report yesterday from the National Republican Congressional Committee on the potential politics of changing the tax system, saying that there was broad support for "simplification," but not for a flat tax, a national sales tax or abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, people familiar with the report said. Members also discussed potential opposition to the alternative minimum tax, congressional aides said. Relatively few Americans are wealthy enough to pay the tax at present, but the House Republicans emphasized that the effects of inflation would gradually mean that the tax would apply to more people, and called it a "ticking tax time bomb," aides said.

In a possible sign of what to expect in 2006, Republican senators heard presentations about the strengths and weaknesses of Bush's presidential campaign and about how to reach blacks, Hispanics, Jews and blue-collar workers, groups not traditionally drawn to the Republican Party, people present said. The sessions were closed to journalists.

The presentations underscored the effectiveness of Bush's appeals to those groups on public expressions of faith, traditional values and especially the issue of marriage, including opposition to same-sex marriage, aides said.

In another presentation, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota introduced senators to the relevance of "blogging," explaining the basics of self-published online commentary and arguing that it can affect public opinion.

The House members also discussed immigration, one person present said, reiterating that adding measures to tighten border security should precede discussion of Bush's proposed guest-worker program.

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