Monday, October 18, 2004

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — Sen. John Kerry came to this battleground state yesterday and accused President Bush of wanting to take Social Security away from millions of elderly Americans and replace it with a private program.

“The president’s privatization plan for Social Security is another way of saying to our seniors that the promise of security will be broken,” Mr. Kerry said yesterday in response to an article in the New York Times Magazine.

The article, by Ron Suskind, re-created scenes and described events at which Mr. Suskind was not present and said Mr. Bush promised a group of major Republican donors that he would privatize Social Security if voters granted him a second term.

“I’m going to come out strong after my swearing-in with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security,” said Mr. Bush, according to the article.

The Bush campaign accused the Massachusetts Democrat of trying to “scare seniors” and disputed the New York Times report.

Mr. Suskind, whose book “The Price of Loyalty” about former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was harshly critical of the administration, said Mr. Bush went on to say that victories next month would give Republicans “two years, at least, until the next midterm.

“We have to move quickly, because after that, I’ll be quacking like a duck,” Mr. Bush said, according to the article.

The words that Mr. Suskind attributes to Mr. Bush about Social Security supposedly came from a gathering of the president’s top donors that Mr. Suskind didn’t attend. He based them on the memories of “several guests” and “notes provided to me.”

The Bush campaign dismissed the article as a hit piece that the New York Times planned for two weeks before the election. The Times endorsed Mr. Kerry for president yesterday, as well.

“It is just flat inaccurate,” Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said in an appearance on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Mr. Gillespie also called into question Mr. Suskind’s reporting because so much of his source material was “hearsay.”

The Democratic National Committee defended the reporter.

“When did President Bush begin objecting to anonymous sources and second-hand reports?” spokesman Jano Cabrera said. “After all, he took us to war on a lot less.”

Although Mr. Bush has campaigned on the promise of “modernizing” Social Security, his campaign adamantly denied yesterday that the president had ever used the word “privatize” to describe his plan.

The Kerry campaign also released a new ad accusing Mr. Bush of wanting to “privatize” Social Security. Kerry officials said privately that the ad would probably be seen here, where polls show the race for the state’s 27 electoral votes is dead even.

Both sides agree that yesterday’s flare-up centered on that particularly loaded word, “privatization,” more than it did on the substance of Mr. Bush’s plans for Social Security, which is on the brink of insolvency.

Mr. Bush wants to give young workers the option of redirecting a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into private investment accounts that they will control. Such a plan would mean billions in lost revenue for government Social Security coffers, which, for years, have been raided to pay for other government programs.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt characterized yesterday’s Democratic focus on Social Security as “John Kerry’s misleading senior scare tactics.”

He dismissed it as “just another example of a candidate who will say anything to get elected, no matter how false his accusations or how contradictory they are with his record of repeatedly voting for higher taxes on Social Security.”

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