- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

Both sides of the Social Security debate are using the system’s 70th anniversary today to drive home their points, with Democrats saying the system has helped many and shouldn’t be undermined and Republicans arguing it must be changed so younger generations don’t suffer.

Last week, Americans United to Protect Social Security (AUPSS) organized 131 Social Security events across the country — some featuring Democratic members of Congress — to celebrate the system and argue against the Republican idea of creating private accounts using some of its funds.

“What has made Social Security strong is the principle of guaranteed benefits,” AUPSS spokesman Brad Woodhouse said. “That principle would go away under the president’s privatization plan.”

The group held an event in the District on Friday featuring James Roosevelt Jr., whose grandfather, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, signed the program into law on Aug. 14, 1935. Mr. Woodhouse hopes events such as Friday’s will heighten the public’s confidence in and appreciation of Social Security, because he said President Bush and Republicans have spent months undermining it by arguing it is outdated.

But Republicans and pro-private accounts groups said the anniversary highlights the need for reform and what they said are Democrats’ attempts to block it.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said Democrats’ celebrating the current Social Security system is like “Sony celebrating the creation of the Victrola.”

“It is time to bring a 70-year program into the 21st century,” Mr. Kingston said. “While the creation of it should be celebrated, it should also be honored by changing it to make it solvent in the future and to have generational fairness.”

Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said it’s “incredibly ironic” that the Democrats praising the system “are the same ones who refuse to fix the problems that threaten its future.”

The Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America’s Social Security — a key group pushing for reform that includes private accounts — sent lawmakers a birthday card for Social Security warning that unless the system’s fiscal problems are fixed, only crumbs from the 70th birthday cake will be left for future generations.

And Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart wrote in an Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel op-ed column Thursday that Social Security’s setup of current workers paying for current retirees worked well in 1935, but doesn’t work well today, because there are fewer workers today relative to retirees.

The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, sent out positive facts about Social Security each day last week. Thursday’s release said the system has helped blacks and, without it, the poverty rate among older blacks would more than double.

Democratic leaders also criticized the Social Security Administration (SSA) for downplaying the system’s anniversary this year, compared with other years.

“It is particularly striking that SSA has chosen to deviate from past practice and disregard the 70th anniversary, while the president has been aggressively promoting his plan to replace Social Security’s guaranteed benefit with private accounts,” read an Aug. 1 letter by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The SSA shot back, saying it is planning events for this anniversary, including speeches and radio interviews by the commissioner and other top officials, a newspaper column and a video of interviews with past Social Security commissioners.

Mr. Kingston said Democrats are just trying to scare seniors in order to grab votes in the next election.

“The best way for Democrats to celebrate the greatness of Social Security is to join us by coming up with Social Security reform and making sure it could last another 70 years,” he said.

As both sides use today’s anniversary to further their agendas, the real battle is likely to gear up next month when the House returns from recess and moves toward a vote on Social Security legislation that includes private accounts. Mr. Woodhouse said that is when his group will be “back into trench warfare.”

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