By Walter Alarkon - 08/10/10 01:12 AM EDT
House Democrats are planning more than 100 events around this week’s anniversary of Social Security to attack Republicans who want to reform the popular entitlement.
Democrats and interest groups on the left have scheduled “birthday parties” and other events to highlight Saturday’s 75th anniversary of the program signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt.
“This is a party that said they want Medicare to wither on the vine and want to privatize Social Security,” the aide said.
Democrats took a beating last summer from seniors worried about the healthcare reform bill. They’re hoping to turn the tables on Republicans this August by convincing seniors the GOP is putting Social Security at risk.
“What Democrats have to do is regain our advantage with an important voting bloc, because the misinformation run by Republicans in the important healthcare debate obscured views on these issues,” the aide said.
Some of the events will be held with the AARP, the lobbying group for seniors, and the Alliance for Retired Americans, a group backed by unions, said Emily Barocas, a spokeswoman for the House Democratic Caucus.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will headline an event in San Francisco on Thursday after appearing with Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the fifth-ranked House Democrat, at a Social Security event last week.
The Democrats’ Social Security push was prompted by calls from GOP leaders for changes to the program.
House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said last month that the retirement age may need to be raised from 67 to 70 to help close the gap between what Social Security raises and spends. Boehner, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, wouldn’t say whether Republicans would campaign on that issue, but said that the country needs to have an “adult conversation” about its fiscal problems.
“These entitlement programs serve tens of millions of Americans, and they’re critically important,” Boehner said. “But we also know that these programs are — are unsustainable in their current form. And I really do think it’s time that we sit down and we talk to the American people together about how we solve them. And I think we need to bring Democrats and Republicans together in order to solve this problem.”
Democrats had strong public support in 2005 when they opposed a plan by President George W. Bush and senior Republicans to allow taxpayers to steer some of their Social Security funds into private investment accounts.
But this year, deficit concerns have heightened worries about the solvency of Social Security among budget observers and members of both parties.
The Social Security Trustees’ annual report, released Friday, found that 2010 will be the first year that the program will take in less revenue through taxes than it will pay out in benefits. Over the next 75 years, the entitlement faces a deficit between its revenues and obligations equal to nearly 2 percent of gross domestic product, the report said. Still, the program’s trust fund has enough money to pay out benefits in full until 2037, and recent actions, including the healthcare law, have slightly closed the 75-year gap.
A few key Democrats have signaled a willingness to take on Social Security reform. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) both said in June that raising the retirement age should be considered to keep the program solvent. And members of President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission, including its Democratic co-chairman Erskine Bowles, have said they plan to come up with a set of reforms.
Unions and other liberal groups are prodding Democrats to protect Social Security. MoveOn.org and the Campaign for America’s Future are asking members to promise not to cut benefits, privatize the program or raise the retirement age, said Alex Lawson, a spokesman for the coalition, called Strengthening Social Security. The group will hold accountable those who break the promise, Lawson said.
House Republicans say they’ll focus on the struggling economy in August, specifically the 9.5 percent unemployment rate and the record $1.5 trillion budget deficit.
House GOP members will be “discussing solutions that address the priorities of the American people — jobs, spending, healthcare, national security and reforming Congress,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.