By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/3/2005 7:26:41 PM ET 2005-02-04T00:26:41

Congressional Democrats used the memorial to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — the creator of Social Security — to launch an all-out attack Thursday on President Bush’s plan for personal accounts.

"They're not really looking to mend Social Security," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "They're looking to end Social Security!"

The coordinated onslaught echoed on the Senate floor.

"I will vote for a guaranteed benefit, not a guaranteed gamble," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

And also in committee hearings.

"We are sitting here talking about ripping the rug out from under the existing social insurance system!" said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

In a letter to President Bush Thursday, Senate Democrats wrote: "We believe it is immoral to borrow another $2 trillion from future generations to finance Social Security reform. We are spending enough of our kids' money."

Democratic leaders have said the president's plan for personal accounts simply will not happen.

"I think the president's in trouble in the Senate," says James Thurber, a political analyst at American University. "He's got 44 Democrats solidly against the bill and then another ten Republicans sitting on the fence."

But for all the obituaries written for the plan, there are some members, most Republicans, believe there is room for compromise — but only if both sides make painful sacrifices.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says there is a model — 1983 — when conservative President Ronald Reagan, against all instinct, agreed to increase taxes and liberal Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, D-Mass., reluctantly agreed to cut benefits by increasing the retirement age.

"Ronald Reagan parked his ideology about taxes, Tip O’Neill parked his ideology against any change, and they saved Social Security for about 40 years," says Graham.

Could that kind of deal happen this year on personal accounts? Sen. Graham says yes, but concedes it would require a level of compromise that hasn't been seen on Capitol Hill in years.

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