CongressDailyAM: ‘Bush Allies Reload In Social Security Fight’

SOCIAL SECURITY - Bush Allies Reload In Social Security Fight

CongressDailyAM, 9/27/06

Keith Koffler
© National Journal Group, Inc.

President Bush's allies in the battle to enact personal Social Security investment accounts are gearing up to counter an aggressive campaign by Democrats to use the idea against Republicans in the upcoming election.

The effort will begin Thursday when a group called For Our Grandchildren sends each member of Congress a copy of a "pledge" they will be asked to sign that commits them to the premise that "reaching an agreement on a solution to the challenges facing Social Security will require all options be on the table."

The pledge, which was obtained by CongressDaily, does not specifically mention the accounts.

Democrats derailed Bush's effort to pass Social Security legislation by refusing nearly in unison to negotiate until private accounts were taken off the table.

Since then, Democrats have continued to insist that they will not consider the accounts because they amount to a "privatization" of Social Security, a description rejected by supporters of the idea.

Believing that the issue plays well for them with the electorate, Democrats have recently ratcheted up their drive to highlight Bush's vow to revisit entitlement issues next year, casting the accounts he backs as a threat to the Social Security system.

The new effort by For Our Grandchildren, an organization funded by the conservative American Institute for Full Employment, appears designed to directly challenge an ongoing campaign by private account opponents to get lawmakers to sign a pledge to oppose efforts to "privatize" Social Security.

The group Americans United, which is backed by labor and has close ties to the congressional Democratic leadership, earlier this month kicked off its Golden Promise campaign with an event in front of the Capitol.

Both House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Reid were in attendance.

Those who accept the Americans United pledge agree to "oppose any scheme for deep benefit cuts or massive debt to fund risky private accounts," according to a statement by Americans United.

For Our Grandchildren officials are in town this week meeting with opinion leaders and congressional officials.

On Sunday, the group will run advertisements in major daily newspapers across the country featuring about a half-dozen former Democratic members of Congress photographed with their grandchildren.

Three of the group's leaders, Leanne Abdnor and former Reps. Tim Penny, D-Minn., and Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, plan to hit the talk radio circuit next month to discuss the dueling pledges.

In addition to its call for Congress not to rule out any option for addressing looming fiscal difficulties for Social Security, the pledge states that a "Social Security solution" must "guarantee the promised benefits for the current and nearly retired; be fair to future generations; protect and strengthen the safety net for the poor and disabled; ensure that Social Security contributions are used for Social Security and not used for other purposes," and "honestly address the unfunded obligations of the current system and reduce the pressure on future taxpayers and other budgetary priorities."

Signers also will pledge to "work toward a bipartisan solution" and eschew "partisan politics," according to the copy of the pledge.

"It puts some people on the record" in case the issue returns to Congress, Abdnor said in an interview. She said the group intended to publicize those who signed or did not sign.

The pledge is a way for lawmakers to "show their willingness to solve this problem" amid attacks from Democrats, Abdnor said. "This is Mom and apple pie -- who in their right mind would not sign this?" she said.

Americans United Communications Director Brad Woodhouse predicted Democrats will all refuse to sign it, and he said that once Americans United gears up its message, most Republicans will also stay away.

"The first thing we'll do with this information is make sure members of Congress hear our view that 'all options on the table' is clearly a reference to private accounts," said Woodhouse. "If 2005 proves anything, it's that any approach to dealing with Social Security's long-term finances using privatization or private accounts is dead on arrival in Congress."