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Bush attacks social security 'scare ads'
Updated: 2005-03-13 10:25

President Bush and Democrats took their differences over Social Security to the airwaves on Saturday, with Bush complaining about "scare ads" against his plan and Democrats denouncing his proposal as a "risky privatization scheme."

Michelle Niemier, right, from United Senior Action of Indiana, participates in a demonstration denouncing President Bush's plans for Social Security
, during a protest which coincides with the annual joint conference of the American Society on Aging and The National council on the Aging in downtown Philadelphia Friday March 11, 2005. [AP]

"Postponing reform will leave our children with drastic and unpleasant choices: huge tax increases that will kill jobs, massive new borrowing or sudden, painful cuts in Social Security benefits or other programs," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

In the Democratic broadcast an hour later, James Roosevelt Jr. — a grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and former Social Security official — accused Bush of breaking a long tradition of bipartisan support for the retirement program.

"In 1935, my grandfather signed the Social Security Act into law, ensuring that Americans retired with financial security," Roosevelt said. "And since that time, Democrats and Republicans have worked together to protect and strengthen Social Security. Like most Americans, I agree with the guiding principle that America's workers deserve a secure retirement."

"Unfortunately, President Bush and Washington Republicans do not share this belief," added Roosevelt, who served as the Social Security Administration's associate commissioner for retirement policy during the Clinton administration.

Bush reiterated his promise of no changes in current benefits to those already retired or who are age 55 or older, "no matter what the scare ads or the politicians might tell you."

Under Bush's plan, younger workers would have the option of diverting part of their Social Security taxes into stock or bond investments — in exchange for a reduction in future guaranteed benefits. The president contends that workers can benefit from higher rates of return from stocks and bonds.

But critics claim such a plan would penalize workers in times of long market downturns, that Social Security won't approach default until mid-century and that Bush's proposals won't fix the system's financial problems anyway.

"They do not prolong the life of the program by a single day," Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt asserted that Bush and his GOP allies "have launched a 60-day campaign to sell their risky privatization scheme."

Bush has been on a nationwide blitz to promote his Social Security plan since he unveiled it in his Feb. 2 State of the Union address, speaking almost exclusively before hand-picked audiences that cheer him. On Thursday and Friday he made a swing through Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana.

But, while a majority of Americans approve of Bush's handling of terrorism and foreign policy, just 37 percent like his approach to Social Security, an Associated Press poll found.

Bush insisted in his radio talk that "the present pay-as-you go system is going broke."

"Some folks are playing down the problem, and say we can fix it later. The fact is, we have got a serious problem and we need to fix it now," he said.

Roosevelt said Democrats agreed it was time to address the long-term problems faced by Social Security. "But first, the president must take his privatization scheme off the table."

Administration official have said the president will not do that. Bush told his radio audience: "I have told Congress all ideas are on the table, except raising the (Social Security) payroll tax rate."

"Some of the options available include indexing benefits to prices, rather than wages; changing the benefit formulas; raising the retirement age — ideas Democrats and Republicans have talked about before," the president said.

Roosevelt said he was happy to go on the radio and speak on behalf of Democrats, noting that his grandfather had pioneered the tactic. "Seventy-two years ago today, American families gathered around their radios to listen to the very first fireside chat by my grandfather. I am proud to continue this tradition."

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