Democrats Reviving Social Security Issue
Monday, October 2, 2006; 8:41 PM
WASHINGTON -- Social Security has drifted out of the national debate, but Democrats, eyeing the senior vote, are trying to revive the issue _ just in time for the midterm elections.
Democratic leaders are advising their party's congressional candidates to focus on what the Republicans might do to Social Security given the chance.
"The president hasn't given up yet, even though the American people resoundingly rejected his proposal for private accounts," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Politicians from both parties acknowledge Social Security is likely to face insolvency in future years as the population ages, although they don't agree on the solutions.
Overhauling the landmark New Deal program to aid seniors was President Bush's postelection goal in 2004. His proposal called for allowing workers under age 55 to divert some Social Security taxes into personal accounts in exchange for lower guaranteed benefits.
Democrats, labor and senior groups strongly opposed private accounts. And Republican unease about the program was enough to kill it, a major defeat for the president.
But a number of groups are working to keep the issue alive.
Social Security advocates are holding dozens of events around the country challenging Republicans to sign a pledge that they will not support efforts to create personal accounts.
Americans United, a labor-backed group formed to fight Social Security changes, plans to follow politicians who favor private accounts _ including GOP Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania _ with campaign workers dressed as gorillas carrying the message, "Don't monkey with our SS."
Another group, "For Our Grandchildren," is sending out a competing pledge to candidates asking that all options be considered to save Social Security, said Tim Penny, a former Democratic congressman from Minnesota.
"It's always been a reliable issue for the Democrats," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers. "The problem is that when the president was trying to sell it it was an issue, but it has receded so much."
Still, Democrats believe the phrase "Social Security" will be heard by voters 50 and over, despite the loud debate over terrorism, Iraq and the economy. These voters in 2002 made up almost half of the electorate, according to exit polls.