- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Usually, Republican administrations are known for being tough on crime, pro-law and order. Yet, the Bush administration is about to reward lawbreakers for their lawlessness.
This political miscalculation could be costly. Why? The administration is rushing quietly to give illegal aliens from Mexico Social Security benefits. Reportedly, the administration wants to seal the deal this month.
A few questions the GOP may wish to consider: Does anybody remember that senior citizens vote more faithfully than any other demographic group? Does anybody remember that the 65 and older demographic is growing? Does anybody remember that Social Security is the "third rail of American politics" touch it and die? Does anybody remember the days when Democrats hammered Republicans for "robbing Social Security" (even though Democrat administrations and Democrat Congresses perfected the spending Social Security Trust Fund monies on other things)?
The pending deal with Mexico differs from other, similar agreements. So-called "totalization agreements" have been around since the 1970s. But the 20 existing agreements, which allow foreigners who worked in the United States and paid Social Security taxes to collect benefits, almost all are with European nations. They cost a total of $183 million for 94,000 beneficiaries, the Social Security Administration says. And only legal visitors qualify.
By contrast, the Mexican deal could cost, according to National Review, $345 billion over the next 20 years. Congressional experts say Mexico would burden Social Security with 162,000 new beneficiaries in the next five years.
The policy problems from such an agreement with Mexico include the sheer volume of people involved, the fact that Mexicans account for the largest proportion of the illegal alien population and vast reliance on fraud, such as fake Social Security numbers and other identity fraud. Mexicans are estimated to make up about half of the 8 million or more illegal alien population.
Already, Social Security will begin running a deficit in 2016. Its current surplus covers spending on other things, because the program operates on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. This is what the whole debate over Social Security reform is all about.
On a political level, this scheme risks Social Security's financial stability for the sake of placating Mexico and pandering to Latino special-interest activists. It pokes a finger in the eye of American senior citizens. And not only isn't it nice to beat up Grandma, to do so carries heavy political risks.
Seniors take Social Security seriously. A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard poll last October found that 87 percent of Americans 65 and older called Social Security one of the most important issues or very important in their decision of who to vote for in congressional races.
The same percentage cited Medicare. Social Security and Medicare outranked the war on terrorism (82 percent), the economy (82 percent) and taxes (66 percent).
Social Security was the most important issue in the vote selection for a plurality of those 65 and older.
And seniors, who are concerned about what happens to Social Security, vote. The Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll was told by 90 percent of seniors that they are registered to vote; 84 percent reported voting in the 2000 presidential election and 71 percent in the 2000 congressional election. By contrast, 60 percent in the 18-29 age range reported being registered to vote, just 44 percent said they voted for president and 23 percent said they voted in the 2000 congressional election.
Furthermore, seniors aren't just in the Sunbelt. As the American Prospect reported last June, "Unlike African-Americans (who are concentrated in major cities and in the South) and union members (who are concentrated in the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and the Pacific Coast), seniors can be found in every state and every congressional district in America big cities and small cities, suburbs and rural areas, North and South, East and West."
Sure, liberal scare tactics about privatizing Social Security largely failed in 2002's midterm elections. Seniors gave Republicans a 12-point advantage.
But the seniors who go vote in midterm elections swing toward Republican candidates. Senior citizens went for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the past three presidential elections, while Republican congressional candidates captured more seniors in 1994, 1998 and 2002.
To think seniors won't penalize Republicans for selling them out to curry favor with Mexico amounts to political stupidity. To reward illegal aliens, who have broken our laws against entering and working in the United States, by pressing on with this agreement is political suicide. If the GOP wants to avoid feeding the stereotype of being wrong on seniors' issues, it should ditch this Mexico scheme.

James R. Edwards Jr., coauthor of "The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform," is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.

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