Washington House Democrats have decided to quit emphasizing that they will not negotiate changes to Social Security until President Bush drops his idea for private accounts. The switch in strategy comes after Democrats learned from focus groups that people frown on the lawmakers for being obstinate.
"People feel like it doesn't show a good-faith effort," said a top House aide, who like several others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the internal data. "It makes us seem like we're 'typical politicians."'
The shift in tactics comes with Democrats and Republicans unsure what will happen after the end next month of a campaign-style, 60-day travel blitz by the president and administration officials who are promoting his plan.
"It may seem like a long time to you, but realistically, we've really just started," Bush told the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week.
Democrats say they are united in opposing a plan they contend would break a social contract by shifting Social Security from a government-guaranteed benefit to a personal investment subject to the risks of the market.
"I'm happy, we're happy, to talk to the president about Social Security if privatization is taken off the table, period," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters last week.
Behind the scenes, both sides appear to be reaching for a lifeline. Bush's top economic adviser said the White House would be willing to consider personal accounts atop the current Social Security taxes and benefit checks, instead as a replacement for part of each.