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News Briefs

GOP Reassures Social Security


Top Republican officials Monday sought to calm fears that President Bush’s economic policies jeopardized the Social Security program, reassuring retirees that their benefits would be safe even if the government dipped into the program’s surplus funds.

While Republicans in both chambers of Congress drafted budget-cutting measures designed to protect Social Security funds, Vice President Dick Cheney turned an energy-policy event into a speech defending Bush’s budget, and Senate Minority leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the political ramifications of using the Social Security funds were exaggerated.

Monday’s efforts underscored the anxiety Republicans have felt since White House Budget Director Mitchell Daniels warned on Friday that the current fiscal year’s budget could tap into Social Security funds -- something Bush and most lawmakers promised not to do. While Bush and his aides continue to assert that their budget will not need the funds, Daniels’ unexpected warning sent lawmakers scrambling to consider bookkeeping changes and spending cuts that would keep the surplus retirement funds intact.

The Republican National Committee sent out a news release Monday noting that tapping Social Security surplus funds would not harm beneficiaries. The statement referred to quotes from Marty Corry, an official with the AARP, saying that tapping the surplus “doesn't affect the trust funds one way or the other.”

Europe Denounces Belarus Election


European leaders on Monday denounced Belarusan President Alexander Lukashenko's reelection Sunday as an undemocratic farce but signaled they will abandon attempts to isolate this former Soviet republic because the policy has failed to force changes.

A delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded Lukashenko's regime did “everything in its power to block the opposition” by exercising tight control over state media and ballot counting. The government waged “a campaign of intimidation” against its critics and “a smear campaign” against international election observers, the OSCE declared.

“Unfortunately, these presidential elections didn't meet the international standards of free and fair elections,” said Kimmo Kiljunen, a Finnish legislator who headed the OSCE observation effort here. “Maybe the political process was somewhat free, but clearly it wasn't fair.”

But the Europeans said it was time to stop trying to cut Belarus off from the rest of the world. Such an approach only “excludes 10 million European citizens from being part of the European family,” said Stef Goris, head of a delegation from the Council of Europe, an organization of foreign ministers. “We should get away from this isolation. Nothing has changed in this country in the last few years.”