Lest there was any doubt, half of the Senate (a Republican every one) voted Tuesday against rejecting massive benefit cuts and debt increases. Every Democrat, Jeffords, and the other five Senate Republicans voted for Nelson’s ammendment to

express the sense of the Senate that Congress should reject any Social Security plan that requires deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt.

The “nay” votes include a dozen Republicans up for re-election next year. Is Rick “Deep benefit cuts and massive debt” Santorum too wordy?

Meanwhile, our fearless leader remains too clever by half to offer leadership:

I have not laid out a plan yet, intentionally. I have laid out principles, I’ve talked about putting all options on the table, because I fully understand the administration must work with the Congress to permanently solve Social Security. So one aspect of the debate is, will we be willing to work together to permanently solve the issue. Personal accounts do not solve the issue. But personal accounts will make sure that individual workers get a better deal with whatever emerges as a Social Security solution…But it’s very important for people to understand that the permanent solution will require Congress and the administration working together on a variety of different possibilities…The first bill on the Hill always is dead on arrival. I’m interested in coming up with a permanent solution. I’m not interested in playing political games…We’re open for ideas. And I — look, I can understand why people say, make — force the President to either negotiate with himself, or lay out his own bill. I want to work with members of both political parties…See, the American people want something done

Unfortunately for the GOP, if the American people want something done, it sure isn’t what they’re offering:

A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken March 10-13 found that 35% of Americans approve of his handling of the issue. Two-thirds agreed with Bush that Social Security is headed for a crisis, but 58% said the more they hear about Bush’s plan, the less they like it.

Looks like some Republicans are getting that idea:

Shaken by raucous protests at open “town hall”-style meetings last month, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio and other GOP leaders are urging lawmakers to hold lower-profile events this time…This month, Republican leaders say they are chucking the open town-hall format. They plan to visit newspaper editorial boards and talk to constituents at Rotary Club lunches, senior citizen centers, chambers of commerce meetings and local businesses. In those settings, “there isn’t an opportunity for it to disintegrate into something that’s less desirable,” says Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Republican leaders are urging their party’s lawmakers to take the spotlight off themselves by convening panels of experts from the Social Security Administration, conservative think tanks, local colleges and like-minded interest groups to answer questions about the federal retirement program. The shift in venues and formats, Santorum says, is aimed at producing “more of an erudite discussion” about Social Security’s problems and possible solutions…Pryce says many Republicans “came back amazed at the depths that the opposition is going to and a little wiser about how to promote our issues.” She says opposition tactics scared away constituents with “legitimate concerns,” and Republicans now want to “put a little more control back into it.”

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