When they host town meetings over the Presidents' Day recess next week, congressional Republicans will boast of a special guest: President Bush, via DVDs, proclaiming the need "to fix Social Security, once and for all."
Typically, Republicans and Democrats alike are armed with party-generated binders full of tips, statistics and sample remarks before they go home for extended breaks. But the presidential recording is the latest wrinkle in a highly aggressive White House campaign to try to sell voters on Bush's plan to restructure Social Security by creating personal investment accounts.
"I'm pleased to join you to discuss a subject of tremendous importance to you and your family -- saving and strengthening Social Security for future generations," a relaxed Bush explains in the four-minute recording. "For younger workers, the government has made promises it cannot pay for, and that means Social Security is set to go broke just when you reach retirement. . . . By the year 2042, the entire system would be bankrupt."
"Some have suggested limiting benefits for wealthy retirees," he said, adding that options include increasing the retirement age, changing the benefit formulas and including penalties for early collection of Social Security benefits. "All these ideas are on the table," he said.
The presentation includes clips of Bush's appearances in talk-show-style settings.
Congressional aides said lawmakers requested the DVDs, recalling that Bush produced a similar video that was used effectively in selling the president's Medicare prescription-drug benefit to constituents in 2003. Some lawmakers believe it helped add a personal touch to the outreach effort.
Democrats, too, are girding to make their case on Social Security. The party yesterday gave Democratic senators five "key points" that began: "We want to work with President Bush to strengthen Social Security for the long-term, but we need to get it right. Unfortunately, the Republican privatization plan would cut Social Security's funding, weakening the program, and make its financial problems worse, not better."
House Democrats were given a sample presentation, "Social Security: An American Success Story," that asserts that the "GOP Privatization Plan" "creates a crisis where none exists" and "cuts future benefits by almost 50%."
New Caucus to Promote Civility on Hill
Fed up with all the fireworks, two lawmakers say they will announce today the formation of a caucus to promote civility and decorum in the halls of the highly partisan House.
Reps. Timothy V. Johnson (R-Ill.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) are creating what they call the Center Aisle Caucus, lawmakers who will lobby their peers to treat each other with more respect.
"We have seen an exponential increase in the degree of incivility and rancor and bitterness and politicization . . . of the [legislative] process during the five years [Israel] and I have been here," said Johnson. He said the two of them want "to use this caucus as a bully pulpit, so to speak, to restore civility to the process."
Precisely how they would do that is still being worked out. Johnson said he hopes members of the new caucus would serve as examples. Israel said he wants the group to press the House leadership to rewrite procedural rules that, he said, engender hostility. Both said they hope the organization would give legislators from both sides of the aisle more opportunities to get to know each other.
The pair haven't formally signed up any of their colleagues yet -- that will come, they said, after today's announcement. But they are boasting support from two former House leaders: former Democratic speaker Thomas S. Foley (Wash.) and former Republican leader Robert H. Michel (Ill.).