Social Security is campaign tool

Democrats are targeting several House Republicans they say have “flip-flopped” on Social Security, launching one of the first salvos in the political battle surrounding reform of the 70-year-old pension system. The new Democratic strategy to unseat Republicans underscores GOP resistance on Capitol Hill to revamping Social Security. It also shows how tough it will be for President Bush to push a bill through Congress.
Democrats are targeting several House Republicans they say have “flip-flopped” on Social Security, launching one of the first salvos in the political battle surrounding reform of the 70-year-old pension system.

The new Democratic strategy to unseat Republicans underscores GOP resistance on Capitol Hill to revamping Social Security. It also shows how tough it will be for President Bush to push a bill through Congress.
File Photos
Rep. Bob Beauprez, left, calls Democrats’ attitude “shameless”; Rep. Chris Van Hollen, right, says potential candidates are interested in the issue.

“We are, first of all, looking very closely at House Republicans’ record on Social Security,” said Greg Speed, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “We’ve found that many of them have a history of offering two contradictory positions on privatization. Now that the president has put a privatization plan out there, this is a moment of truth. Are they for privatization, or are they against that?”

Speed added that these Republicans are “in for a rendezvous with their records.”

Some of the 15 Republicans being singled out were Democratic targets in the last election cycle: Reps. Heather Wilson of New Mexico’s 1st District, Jon Porter of Nevada’s 3rd District and Rick Renzi of Arizona’s 1st District.
Others include new Rep. Dave Reichert, from Washington’s marginally Republican 8th District, and veteran Rep. Clay Shaw of Florida’s 22nd District, who won reelection with 63 percent of the vote.

Shaw last month went on the counterattack by issuing a release condemning an automated phone-call program that told his constituents that he favors “privatizing Social Security.”

“The Social Security trust fund should be in a lock box, not a Wall Street slot machine,” the call said.

No group claimed responsible for the calls, which also were heard in the districts of Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), John Hostettler (R-Ind.) and Renzi.

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.), one of the Democrats’ prime targets in 2006, brushed aside accusations that he is trying to placate senior citizens back home while toeing the president’s line in Washington. A DCCC news release last week accused Beauprez of saying he supports personal accounts while opposing privatization on a questionnaire for AARP.

Beauprez countered that the distinction between “personal” and “private” is critical.

While private accounts would give workers total freedom to invest their money however they see fit, personal accounts would limit them to a handful of relatively conservative options, he said.

Beauprez added that he is open to personal accounts but has not settled on any solution to fix Social Security.

Speed called Beauprez’s private-personal remarks “a distinction without a difference,” noting that under both scenarios money would be channeled out of the Social Security trust fund.
Referring to the DCCC chairman, Beauprez said: “It’s not surprising that [Rep.] Rahm Emanuel [D-Ill.] and his friends [give] guys in the vulnerable seats all the attention.”

Emanuel was unavailable over the weekend and yesterday for comment.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the chairman of DCCC candidate recruitment, said the looming Social Security debate had prompted Democrats in key districts to consider challenging Republican incumbents.

Van Hollen declined to identify potential candidates or the districts they come from, saying only that “in conversations that I’ve had with potential candidates, the Social Security issue has been a major part of that conversation. The fact that that may be the issue, the domestic issue, that dominates the election cycle has caught their attention and interest.”

Matt Farrauto, spokesman for the New Mexico Democratic Party, said he’s not sure if the issue of Social Security by itself is doing much to stimulate Democratic interest in challenging Wilson, who won her fifth term in November with 55 percent of the vote, or nearby Republican Rep. Steve Pearce (N.M.). But, he said, it had helped fire up Democrats still smarting from the 2004 election.

Van Hollen, who narrowly won a Republican-held seat in 2002, said he had had conversations with “dozens” of candidates in dozens of districts.

Republicans, meanwhile, said it was Democrats who would have to answer for switching their position on Social Security. Up until recently, these Republicans said, Democrats were calling for immediate reform of Social Security; now that Bush has signaled his support, Democrats are balking.

Brian Schubert, spokesman for Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), who also has been targeted by Democrats, cited comments by President Clinton made at a Kansas City, Mo., community college in 1998.

“Today Social Security is sound, but a demographic crisis looms if we fail to act,” Clinton said then, according to remarks issued by Schubert. “That’s why I’ve challenged our nation to act now to strengthen Social Security for the 21st century.”

Republicans also recalled that now-deceased Democratic Sen. Patrick Moynihan of New York had spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to reform Social Security in the 1990s.
A House Republican aide questioned Democratic efforts to oust Johnson, who recently won her 12th term in a state that strongly backed Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry.

Other GOP members and staffers said Republicans would insist on two core principles as the reform debate took off — preserving current benefits, and not raising payroll taxes.

Beauprez called those Democrats “shameless” who were “trying to convince people that there is no problem with Social Security.”