The battle lines in the coming war over Social Security have finally been drawn with the creation last week of a new umbrella group that will coordinate attacks on President Bush's drive to create personal investment accounts.
At the urging of Democratic leaders in Congress, a few political campaign veterans have formed Americans United to Protect Social Security. The nonprofit organization with close ties to organized labor plans to raise $25 million to $50 million to pressure lawmakers to vote against Bush's proposal.
"At Americans United to Protect Social Security, we are going to run a national campaign to defeat the president's privatization plan," said Brad Woodhouse, the group's spokesman and the former communications director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "The president and his supporters in Congress are messing with the third rail [of politics]; we're going to make sure they get zapped."
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees provided seed money of nearly $1 million. Other major players in the coalition include the AFL-CIO; USAction, a grass-roots issues network; and the Campaign for America's Future, an activist group that pushes issues from the perspective of the political left.
Americans United to Protect Social Security will be run by two longtime advisers to Senate Democrats. Its campaign manager is Paul Tewes, the former political director of the DSCC. Its general consultant is Steve Hildebrand, who ran the unsuccessful reelection campaign last year of Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), the former Senate minority leader.
The group plans to work closely with the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to fight Bush's Social Security drive. Democratic lawmakers intend to help raise funds for it, according to a person close to the new group.
About 200 organizations will coordinate their efforts through the new group. The Media Fund, which raised and spent millions of dollars on anti-Bush advertisements last year, is considering joining, according to one of its principals, Harold Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
The largest single opponent of the president's plan, the seniors lobby AARP, will operate separately.
Business groups are already arrayed to assist the president on the issue. The Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, housed at the National Association of Manufacturers, is pressuring Congress directly. The Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security, which operates under the guidance of the Business Roundtable, is planning nationwide television and grass-roots pressure campaigns that will cost $15 million to $20 million.
In addition, pro-Bush groups such as Progress for America, FreedomWorks and USA Next will be raising and spending money to help Bush's Social Security initiative. USA Next, which plans to spend as much as $10 million, has hired several of the same consultants who advised Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked the war record of Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democrats' candidate for president last year.