- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2000

Vice President Al Gore hopes to deride George W. Bush's Social Security plan to victory in November, despite the Texas governor's gains among senior voters.

Mr. Bush's plan for private retirement accounts would "take the security out of Social Security," Mr. Gore told 10,000 senior citizens yesterday at a convention of the American Association of Retired Persons in Orlando.

"I don't think your retirement should be up for discussion," Mr. Gore said. "I don't believe your Social Security should be up for grabs."

Seniors remained Mr. Gore's strongest demographic group, even as he lost ground to Mr. Bush in recent polls.

But Mr. Bush is closing the gap, drawing within 9 points of Mr. Gore among seniors.

"The American people want leadership and results on Social Security reform, not four more years of Al Gore's flip-flops, denials and attacks," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday.

Last year Mr. Gore spoke in favor of Mr. Clinton's plan for a partial privatization of Social Security. The vice president now says he only explored the idea.

In 1996, President Clinton won among older voters by 6 percentage points, according to a Washington Post exit poll. Among voters aged 60 and older, Mr. Clinton won 49 percent of votes, to 43 percent for Republican Bob Dole and 7 percent for Reform candidate Ross Perot.

Seniors made up 23 percent of the electorate.

Mr. Clinton won among seniors by 12 points in 1992.

AARP, a nonpartisan group of 30 million seniors, has not taken a position on the Bush plan. But AARP believes individual retirement accounts should be "in addition to Social Security, not as a substitute," said John Rother, legislative director of the AARP.

The leader of another seniors organization said Mr. Gore's attempt to "scare seniors for political gain" will not work.

"The days of Democratic demagoguery are done, and Al Gore, the duke of demagoguery, is going to find that out," said James L. Martin, 64, president of the 60-Plus Association.

Mr. Gore challenged Mr. Bush to hold a debate, "as soon as possible," on their competing Social Security proposals.

"I believe we can reform Social Security the right way," Mr. Gore said. "We can reform it in a way that preserves its fundamental guarantee and also pays down our debt, keeps our economy strong and enables us to meet our other great challenges."

Mr. Gore proposes to pay down the national debt through budget surpluses and to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund through the interest savings.

Mr. Gore tried to raise doubts about the Bush plan by raising unanswered questions about transition costs and whether Mr. Bush would raise the retirement age for Social Security.

"Can we really settle for so many unanswered questions on an issue as great as Social Security?" Mr. Gore asked.

Mr. Bush said Tuesday that voluntary personal savings accounts "build on the promise of Social Security."

Mr. Bush told workers at a company that builds railroad cars in Portland, Ore., that such accounts strengthen Social Security, "give people the security of ownership," and help them "build wealth, which they can pass on to their children."

Both parties have vied for seniors' votes in the run-up to the congressional and presidential elections.

Earlier this month Mr. Bush proposed a $7.4 billion, five-year plan of tax breaks to help Americans care for elderly relatives at home or in nursing homes.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore have pushed for a Medicare plan with a prescription drug benefit that would cost $20 billion annually.

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