Conservative 'Truth Squad' Battles Dem Attack Plan On Social Security

By Christine Hall

CNSNews.com Staff Writer

March 15, 2002 (CNSNews.com) – A conservative seniors group Thursday launched a political pre-emptive attack against the Democratic Party and its strategists who are mapping out ways to damage Republicans on the issues of Social Security and Medicare.

“60 Plus pledges to send traveling ‘truth squad’ members, especially from the African American and Hispanic American communities … into the battle in every congressional district and every state in America to set the record straight,” said 60 Plus President Jim Martin.

Among the most contentious items involving Social Security is President Bush’s plan to allow workers to use part of their payroll taxes to invest in personal retirement accounts. “Minority groups, in particular, are hurt by Social Security’s current low rate of return,” said Martin. “One party has ridden the twin horses of hypocrisy – Social Security and Medi-Scare – for over 30 years, bringing these scare tactics to a fine art form. It’s time to stop this sucker punching of seniors.”

Members of the 60 Plus truth squad include Walter Williams, a George Mason University economist, and Alvin Williams of the Black America Political Action Committee (BAMPAC). Both are prominent black supporters of privatization.

The New Deal-era program of Social Security will begin running a deficit (benefits paid to retirees will exceed the amount collected by the government through payroll taxes) in 2016, according to the program’s actuaries. The same is true for the federal Medicare hospital and supplemental insurance system for senior citizens.

A Los Angeles Times poll conducted five weeks ago found that, on the question of who Americans trust most to protect Social Security funds, 40 percent said congressional Democrats, compared to only 22 percent for President Bush and 15 percent for congressional Republicans. However, when asked by a CBS News poll in January about whether individuals should be allowed to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes on their own, over half of those surveyed thought the idea, which Bush and his reform commission have advocated, was a good one. Even 46 percent of Democrats said it was a good idea, compared to 47 percent who disagreed with the concept.

Still, many Democratic strategists believe Republicans remain vulnerable on the question of how to shore up Social Security. On March 12, Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, led a group of Democratic colleagues and senior citizens in calling on Republican leaders to have an “open, fair, and honest debate about their Social Security privatization plans before the November elections.”

“Republicans claim that privatization is the only answer for Social Security [and that] they have credible privatization plans,” said Matsui. “They should come out and explain those plans to the American people before the election.”

Matsui added, “Privatization does not work” because “it cuts benefits and requires massive transfers of general revenues.”Voters deserve to hear the details so that they can make an informed decision in November,” said Matsui.

But House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) insists Democrats will not get the political mileage they’re seeking. “This is going to be the bitter lesson of this campaign season for the Democrats,” said Armey, who is retiring this year. “There has been nothing so shameful in American politics in my adult lifetime than the way Democrats have used Social Security to terrorize American seniors,” Armey told news sources.

After the president’s commission issued its report in December 2001, Bush said he wanted a year for a national discussion to take place before pursuing Social Security reform legislation. Despite the president’s attempts to make the issue of Social Security less perilous for Republicans running in 2002, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) promises he will try to use procedural rules to force the House to debate and vote on GOP-sponsored Social Security reform plans.

Supporters of a bill to change the nation’s campaign finance laws were successful last month in getting enough Democrats and Republicans to sign a discharge petition and force the bill out of committee and onto the House floor, where it was approved.However, this tactic, which requires 218 signatures, may have less chance of success where Social Security reform legislation is concerned. Spokespersons for key House members who signed the campaign finance discharge petition told The Hill newspaper last week that their bosses were unlikely to go along with such a plan.