- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

Senior citizens might be the most outspoken on Social Security reform, but both sides of the debate have also been increasingly battling for support from people 35 and younger, who they think will be a key factor in determining the outcome.

Americans United to Protect Social Security — a top coalition lobbying against President Bush’s Social Security plan — this week began a student-led arm called Students United to Protect Social Security, which will coordinate five youth organizations and 43 college campuses in opposition of Mr. Bush’s proposal.

“We’ve heard the president mislead young Americans saying they are paying into a ‘bankrupt system,’ but he is not the only voice out there,” Americans United spokeswoman Cara Morris said, citing the student effort.

Mr. Bush wants to divert a portion of Social Security payroll tax into voluntary personal retirement accounts.

Proponents say younger workers favor the idea of owning and investing some of their Social Security dollars in the accounts, because they have the most to lose when the system runs into financial problems.

Mr. Bush has repeated this mantra across the country, including last week at a Milwaukee event featuring a panel of young workers.

“If you’re a young worker, a young entrepreneur, a young mom paying into the system, you’re paying into a bankrupt system unless the United States Congress decides to act,” Mr. Bush told the group.

Both sides of the debate say that although senior citizens are critical, youth support is also needed to help them meet their Social Security goal.

“If we can win over the group that’s farthest away from getting a [Social Security] check, that’s the final nail in the coffin,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who opposes Mr. Bush’s effort and is a member of the House’s 30-Something Caucus.

Mr. Ryan said his party must convince those 35 and younger that Social Security will be there when they retire — something most youth do not believe.

Leaders of the Republican National Committee and Republicans in Congress are in regular contact with student leaders and young professionals, advising them how to use op-eds and community meetings to get out the message.

“They’re certainly a very important variable,” Danny Diaz, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said of the younger crowd, noting that in the 2004 election “young people were a great part of our victory.”

Progress for America has taken out banner ads on popular youth Web sites to promote Mr. Bush’s plan.

Michael Tanner, director of Cato’s Project on Social Security Choice, said that although proponents of Mr. Bush’s Social Security reform must calm senior citizens’ fears, they also “have to play offense and the offense here is getting younger people involved.”

He said youth won’t be the “decisive” factor in the outcome of the Social Security fight, “but on something that’s going to be decided on close margin you have to have them on your side.”

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