Saturday, April 9, 2005

The chairman of a conservative group supporting private retirement accounts within Social Security has challenged the AARP to a debate on the issue, but the Goliath AARP won’t bite at the jabs put out by the political David of USA Next.

Charlie Jarvis, chairman of USA Next — which styles itself as a conservative alternative to the 35-million-member AARP — has called out the powerful lobbying group to hold a public debate on Social Security, preferably on a college campus.

“Our two organizations have been at the forefront of a number of key issues that are critical to our members, their children and grandchildren, and we owe it to them to discuss and debate these issues out in the open,” Mr. Jarvis wrote in an open letter to AARP CEO William Novelli.

AARP spokeswoman Lisa Davis said her group, which has engaged in a public disagreement with USA Next’s aggressive promotion tactics, has declined.

“We saw the press release,” she said. “We have been doing a number of forums and key discussions with policy experts, politicians and AARP members, and we will continue doing that.

“What we won’t do is turn our focus away from trying to find a solution to Social Security’s solvency to engage with those who pass untrue and negative attacks,” she said. “We feel being swayed away from this debate by groups that have said their goal is to dismantle [AARP] or hurl unfounded and untrue negative attacks takes away from the valuable time needed for this discussion.”

Mr. Novelli has characterized USA Next as a “fringe group,” especially after it aired a television ad that claimed promoting same-sex “marriage” is “the real AARP agenda.” USA Next since has been sued by a homosexual couple in Oregon who say the organization used a photo of them in the ad without their permission.

Mr. Novelli said on CNN’s “Inside Politics” last month that USA Next “is not a serious group.”

“They’re beyond the fringe,” he said. “We’re willing to enter discussions with anybody, but not somebody that really is way out there.”

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” pressed David Certner, AARP director of federal affairs, last month to debate USA Next on his program, but Mr. Certner said USA Next “just wants to engage in attack politics,” and AARP would agree to debate only “serious policy-makers on the issues.”

Mr. Jarvis said such reactions show that the AARP “is hiding in their fortress in D.C.” and doesn’t want to publicly defend its staunch opposition to President Bush’s proposal to divert a portion Social Security taxes into private savings accounts for individuals.

“It’s a classic conflict of visions for America,” Mr. Jarvis said. “I think that is ultimately why they are afraid. If Bill Novelli is secure in the facts undergirding AARP’s proposals, he ought to put them out in public and have them publicly challenged.”

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