Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Three-fifths of people 55 and older think Social Security private accounts for younger workers are a good idea, as long as their own benefits remain untouched, according to a poll being released today by key supporters of President Bush’s effort.

The poll — commissioned by the leading grass-roots lobbying coalition that supports private accounts — is meant to counter polls that have found support low for Mr. Bush’s idea.

Its findings also could encourage House Republicans as they head home next week to sell the idea in their districts.

“The message is that when seniors are educated, they’re supportive,” said Derrick Max, executive director of Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America’s Social Security, the lobbying group that commissioned the poll. “I hope it encourages members of Congress to talk to seniors.”

Mr. Bush yesterday warned that voters will punish Democrats who do nothing to reform the Social Security system.

“I’m just getting started on this issue,” he told reporters. “And I’m enjoying every minute of it. I like to take big issues to the American people.”

Both House and Senate Republican leaders also are gearing up their members to sell Social Security reform and private accounts in the coming congressional recess. But House Republican aides say some members are nervous about such events because of staunch opposition in town-hall meetings during the last congressional break.

“Dead in the water,” one House Republican member, who asked not to be named, said of the Social Security effort.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, balked at that.

“I haven’t had one Republican member come to me and tell me we shouldn’t be doing this,” he said.

When specifically told their benefits would not be affected and private accounts would be voluntary for younger workers, 59 percent of those 55 and older thought the plan was a good idea, while 33 percent did not, the lobbying coalition’s poll found.

The survey of 800 registered voters, conducted March 6-8 by the Republican firm Ayres, McHenry & Associates, had a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

At the White House, Mr. Bush noted another poll, this one by ABC News, that shows 55 percent of Americans oppose his plan to reform Social Security.

“In that same survey, I was heartened to see that over two-thirds of the Americans recognize we have a problem,” Mr. Bush said. “My first concern was that members of Congress would think the public didn’t think there was a problem — but they do.

“The American people say we’ve got a problem, and they’re going to expect people to come to the table,” he added, making an implicit political threat to Democrats who have said they will negotiate on Social Security only if private accounts are ruled out in advance. “And they’re not going to like it when they see people not coming to the table.”

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