DeMint said that all workers born after 1950 could choose to have an investment account. And as there would be no cost to establish an account, he predicted that most would.
He also predicted that the individual accounts would prove so popular that the government would figure out some way to keep them growing after 2017.
DeMint acknowledged that his plan would do nothing to shore up the retirement system's solvency. "This is just the first step to break the logjam," DeMint said.
John B. Shadegg of Arizona, who ranks fifth in the House Republican leadership and plans to co-sponsor DeMint's bill, said it had the virtue of addressing voters' frequent demand that Congress "quit stealing our Social Security taxes" to fund other programs.
"There's lots of public agreement that Social Security taxes should be used for Social Security benefits," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has long sought a bipartisan approach to Social Security's financial woes. "This is a good, common-sense start to what will apparently be a long debate about solvency."
Times staff writer Warren Vieth contributed to this report.