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Reynolds Recommends Shelving Social Security Reform for Rest of 109th

Fearful that tackling Social Security reform could cripple his party in the 2006 elections, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) plans to recommend to his fellow leaders that they shelve the issue for the remainder of the 109th Congress.

Reynolds told his fellow Ways and Means Committee GOP members as much during a panel luncheon Wednesday. After Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) expressed his determination to push forward on Social Security this year, Reynolds stood and said he would make the opposite argument to the leadership, according to two sources familiar with the exchange.

“Reynolds told Thomas that he would recommend to the leaders that we not proceed with Social Security this year because it did not appear there was any chance it would be passed into law by the Senate, and we’d be forcing our vulnerables to walk to the plank for nothing,” said a source familiar with Reynolds’ comments.

While Reynolds made reference only to not doing Social Security this year, the source said it was widely understood that “if it doesn’t happen now, it’s not happening in 2007.”

Asked about Reynolds’ statements, an NRCC spokesman said, “We don’t comment on what happens in closed-door meetings.”

Thomas similarly refused to acknowledge the incident, saying, “I don’t talk about closed-door meetings or what went on in closed-door meetings, and if someone who was in a closed- door meeting did, they’re doing a great disservice to their colleagues.”

Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), a member of Ways and Means, declined to comment directly on what Reynolds said.

But when asked if he shared Reynolds’ concerns, Cantor said, “I certainly look to Tom Reynolds in his role as NRCC chairman and listen to his advice, but there is no question that the question of Social Security reform is one we’ll have to pursue.”

Reynolds strong desire to abandon Social Security reform is reflective of widespread nervousness among GOP campaign strategists about how the issue will play out next November. Republican sources said that the results of the party’s internal polling and focus groups on Social Security have made the GOP’s political operatives nervous about proceeding, especially since the party’s approval ratings and generic ballot performance are already low.

Reynolds’ opposition does not mean that the issue is completely dead, since Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) could continue to push for a floor vote.

But to one senior Republican lawmaker who supports the idea of reform, the issue is already settled for this Congress.

“It’s over,” the lawmaker said.

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