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Democrats bash Bush social security plan
Updated: 2005-01-29 12:01

US Senate Democrats on Friday criticized President Bush's plan to add personal accounts to Social Security and accused his administration of improperly using the Social Security Administration to promote the idea.

A pair of Social Security employees told the Democratic Policy Committee they objected to internal agency documents that direct employees to talk about the system's problems and a need for reform.

"That is a political message, and it's not my job as an agency employee to project a political message," said Debbie Fredericksen, who works in the Minneapolis field office and is a union representative.

Bush hopes to let younger workers divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts that supporters hope would be more profitable than traditional government bonds because they could be invested in the stock market.

Bush met privately Friday with congressional Republicans at a retreat in West Virginia to discuss Social Security and other issues.

Congressional Republicans have said they will need Democratic support to pass legislation, and a handful of Senate Democrats have been meeting with supporters of private accounts to discuss the issue.

Most Senate Democrats have said they oppose carving private accounts out of the existing system. They held the session Friday to highlight their opposition to the Bush plan and to what they say is the administration's improper use of a government agency.

"These messages serve no other purpose than to sear the idea of crisis into the public's mind," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg , D-N.J.


_The agency's communications plan directs workers to spread this message: "In order for Social Security to be there for future generations, necessary reforms must take place."

_Talking points distributed internally reflect Bush's political messages about Social Security and the need for personal accounts. It includes Bush's principles for overhauling the system, including that "modernization must include individually controlled, voluntary personal retirement accounts to augment Social Security."

_Mailings to Americans detailing the benefits they can expect to receive also warn that "the Social Security system is facing serious financial problems, and action is needed soon to make sure that the system is sound."

_The agency's Web site and customer service telephone lines push the need to "modernize and reform" the system, saying the future shortfall is "massive and growing."

"We feel that this is a gross misuse and waste of government funds and government personnel," said Steve Kofahl, a claims representative from Seattle and also a union representative.

The Social Security Administration responded that its actions were appropriate and said similar messages were used during the Clinton administration.

"I have never, nor will I ever, ask or direct Social Security employees to promote or advance any specific proposal for Social Security reform," Jo Anne Barnhart, commissioner of Social Security, said in a statement. "Our job at Social Security is to provide services and benefits and to educate the American public about the programs and finances of Social Security."

At Friday's session, several Democrats said they would not support the Bush plan because it undercuts the nature of Social Security as an insurance program that guards against poverty in old age.

"We want a guaranteed benefit, not a guaranteed gamble," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Also objecting was James Roosevelt Jr., whose grandfather, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed the Social Security Act into law. "He was adamant that Social Security was an insurance program ... not an investment plan," James Roosevelt said.

Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called the Friday's Democratic forum a farce.

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