- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

Retired grandparents and great grandparents have no interest in leaving their grandchildren and great-grandchildren an untenable, unsustainable retirement system that threatens to overwhelm them. However, if AARP, the lobbying organization that purports to represent the interests of retirees and those approaching retirement, gets its way, that is precisely what will happen in the decades ahead.

Without waiting for President Bush to unveil his Social Security reform plan, AARP has launched a multimillion-dollar pre-emptive attack on personal retirement accounts, which will form the foundation of the president’s forthcoming proposals.

Having twice successfully campaigned for the presidency on the promise to solve Social Security’s impending financial crisis, Mr. Bush must now re-exert his presidential leadership by seizing the initiative. The sooner the White House acts, the more likely it will be able to frame the debate. With the opposition now on the attack, time is of the essence.

Without vigorous, sustained, specific presidential leadership, Mr. Bush’s allies in Congress and in the public arena will have difficulty responding to the attacks of the anti-reform crowd, whose efforts will only intensify in the days and weeks ahead. It is incumbent upon the president to put forth a proposal around which his allies can rally.

The White House reportedly plans to release its reform plan at the end of February or in March. The unveiling should occur sooner. The longer the president’s reform allies are forced to defend against a campaign of scare tactics, the more likely it is that his political support will diminish. By late winter or early spring, the White House’s congressional allies conceivably will have taken such heavy blows that recovery would become problematic. The political battle doesn’t have to develop that way.

The president need not use his State of the Union address, which is customarily delivered in early February following the January inauguration of a re-elected president, to divulge the outline of his Social Security reform plan. In fact, Social Security reform deserves to be showcased in a speech devoted to that single issue. With anti-reform attacks now under way, delivering such a speech before February would be appropriate. In any event, delaying the unveiling much beyond the State of the Union speech is inadvisable.

There is a reason why the evolving Social Security crisis has not been addressed for the better part of a generation. There are no easy, simple answers that will resolve the Social Security’s trillions and trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities. For understandable reasons, Social Security for decades was widely considered to constitute the untouchable “third rail of politics.” The sooner Mr. Bush follows up on the leadership he showed during the 2000 and 2004 elections, the faster his allies can rally around his plan. In all likelihood, those allies will include millions of grandparents and great-grandparents.

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