CongressDailyPM: ‘Group Promises Santorum Plenty Of Monkey Biz On Trail’

SOCIAL SECURITY - Group Promises Santorum Plenty Of Monkey Biz On Trail

CongressDailyPM, 8/15/06

Keith Koffler
© National Journal Group, Inc.

A liberal activist group is aggressively targeting Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania by highlighting his support for a Social Security overhaul with payroll tax-funded personal retirement accounts. The group, Americans United, has four staffers in the state and also will target other Pennsylvania Republicans up for re-election, including Reps. Curt Weldon, Mike Fitzpatrick, Jim Gerlach and Don Sherwood. The organization, which also is focusing on what it believes is a flawed Medicare prescription drug plan enacted by the GOP-led Congress, is backed by labor and individual liberal donors and has close ties to the House and Senate Democratic leadership. It is the linchpin of a growing Democratic effort to turn President Bush's 2005 effort to enact legislation with private accounts against Republicans as this year's struggle for control of Congress ensues.

Santorum, who is embroiled in a difficult campaign for re-election against state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., today got his first taste of a tactic the group says will dog him for the rest of the campaign: an 11-foot inflatable gorilla symbolizing the "massive benefit cuts and massive debt" resulting from private accounts, according to Americans United communications director Brad Woodhouse. Supporters believe the accounts would help shore up Social Security by allowing workers to generate earnings by investing a portion of their payroll taxes. "Sen. Santorum has been a leader to guarantee benefits for current retirees and also look for ways to ensure that Social Security is there for younger workers," a Santorum campaign aide said today.

The gorilla -- along with Americans United staff and about two dozen Pennsylvania seniors -- delivered to Santorum's Harrisburg office a cake celebrating the 71st anniversary of the establishment of Social Security, which occurred Monday. Woodhouse said the gorilla will make its way to as many Santorum in-state events as possible. It "will be trailing Rick Santorum from now until he switches his position on privatization," Woodhouse said. On "special" occasions, the group will have a 40-foot, blown-up gorilla on hand for Santorum to consider. Rep. Clay Shaw of Florida, another senior Republican facing a tough re-election battle, also was presented with a cake by Americans United activists today at Shaw's office in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Americans United has a presence in about 15-20 locations, according to Woodhouse, including Senate battleground states like Washington, Montana, Missouri, Minnesota and Ohio. Staffers are also located in New Jersey, New York, and Illinois, where House lawmakers will be targeted, and in New Hampshire, where presidential hopefuls will be on the receiving end of the group's message. Staffers in Ohio also plan to go after another endangered Republican leader, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce.