WASHINGTON — Rep. David Price says he’s worried the partisan House rancor that surrounded the Clinton impeachment trial may leave Congress split and stymied, regardless of the Senate’s verdict.

Price warned this week that saving Social Security is “by far the most important” issue facing the nation, and the most affected by time lost to the impeachment trial. “It’s also the most likely initiative to fall apart, the most delicate and difficult to solve. We have to act quickly.”

The Chapel Hill Democrat applauded many of the president’s State of the Union initiatives for their broad appeal to concerns shared by Democrats and Republicans. Price specifically cited long-term solvency for Social Security, health care and education reform as subjects all Americans would like to see addressed.

“I hope the proposals will help restore cooperation [in Congress],” Price said Monday. “But I’m concerned about the level of partisanship and division the impeachment trial might leave.”

Although hopeful that the House would be able to pass needed legislation to strengthen Social Security — the centerpiece of Clinton’s proposals — Price cautioned that the administration’s proposals were untested ideas that require thorough attention.

Clinton has suggested using about $2.7 trillion of the projected $4.4 trillion budget surplus over the next 15 years for the Social Security trust fund. He also proposed investing about $700 billion of the surplus in the stock market.

At a congressional budget retreat last weekend, Price said he was open to the stock-market investment concept but not yet sold on it. He still was not convinced that returns on the funds, which now are invested in U.S. Treasury bonds, would be better served in private holdings, he said.

On another topic, Price said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is noted for his team-building and conciliatory panache, has a less than flashy public persona — a quality Price said the former wrestling coach would have to address.

“I know Denny Hastert well,” said Price, who re-entered Congress with the new speaker in 1996 after a defeat at the polls two years earlier. “And he is well-known on the Hill. But he is not a particularly visible leader, and he needs to work on keeping a higher profile. He’s got a very closely divided House, very partisan, very split, as well as serious division in his own party. He’s got his work cut out for him.”

Price said he and other House members will labor closely with the man who took a title meant for Bob Livingston, the Republican from Louisiana who resigned in December after allegations of an extramarital affair emerged.

“Particularly because of the circumstances that made Denny speaker, I think most of us are inclined to wish him well,” Price said.

The House recessed on Jan. 19 and will reconvene Feb. 2, in time to begin discussing the president’s budget, which will be sent to Congress Feb. 1.

Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) Date: January 27, 1999 Page: A7 Copyright, 1999, The Durham Herald Company