- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

Attacking Social Security reform by saying "grandma will be tossed out into the snow" and be "eating cat food" is no longer a winning Democratic strategy, newly elected Republicans said yesterday.
"Voters are pretty smart, and I think they are getting smarter," said Sen.-elect John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican. "Where scare tactics are concerned, it's just not as effective as it used to be. They've seen it before."
In a debate between "substance and scare tactics, substance wins," he said at a Cato Institute event titled "The Third Rail Is Dead," which also featured Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. The Cato is a libertarian, free-market think tank.
The two Republicans ran unabashedly in favor of allowing workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts.
Mr. Toomey, who won a third term in a majority Democratic district near Allentown, Pa., said during the campaign he "pleaded guilty" to advocating Social Security reform and supporting even bigger tax cuts than those proposed by President Bush, "but that still didn't cost me this seat."
Republicans were winners in November, said the two lawmakers, because voters admire candidates who are willing to lead on an issue and present "substantive" ideas, even if they don't agree with all of them.
Democrats offered no alternative to the status quo on Social Security in the last election, said Mr. Toomey, which will eventually require "massive tax increases or a massive reduction in benefits" to remain solvent.
Hans Riemer, senior policy analyst with the Campaign for America's Future, rejected the idea that Democrats engaged in "scare tactics," adding that any Republican who earned votes on Social Security did it by misleading the electorate about their position.
"They told people they opposed privatization. They told the voters they opposed benefit cuts," said Mr. Riemer. "They ran away from their issue and it didn't do as much damage as it might have because of that."
The reason Republicans were able to tip the balance of power in Congress, said Mr. Riemer, was because of the public's "positive overall feelings" for President Bush and his conduct in the war.
"That's what did the trick. It didn't have anything to do with their position on Social Security. They're trying to fabricate out of whole cloth reasons for winning this election and have nothing to back it up," he said.
Pollster David Winston of the Winston Group said that the November elections represented a "dramatic reversal of the Social Security scare campaigning" that was successful for Democrats since the mid-1980s.
Mr. Winston's postelection polling showed that voters 65 and older were "the single most successful voting group," trending toward Republicans 56 percent to 43 percent. Asked whether a candidate's position on Social Security was important, 71 percent of voters overall agreed, including 82 percent of seniors.
Mr. Toomey said Pennsylvania is second to only Florida in the number of elderly residents, and his district's population, which Democrat Al Gore carried in the 2000 presidential race, is even older than his state's average.
Yet even though he dared touch the "Third Rail" a term Mr. Toomey said is insulting to seniors, implying they are a unthinking voting bloc he won in November by his widest margin yet.
Sen.-elect Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Sen.-elect Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen.-elect Jim Talent in Missouri also were victorious while supporting Social Security reform.
The message, said Mr. Toomey, that "everyone is an investor, everyone is a capitalist" resonated across party and demographic lines. Private control over a portion of Social Security taxes "gives poor people the opportunity to accumulate wealth in their lifetime and pass it along to their children."

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