updated 2/15/2005 8:06:29 PM ET 2005-02-16T01:06:29

Senate Republicans equipped their rank and file Tuesday with campaign-style material on Social Security that touts President Bush’s call for voluntary private accounts for younger workers but omits any mention of companion cuts in guaranteed future benefits.

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“A perfect storm” of longer life expectancy, lower fertility rates and aging baby boomers is sending Social Security toward insolvency, says a slide show designed for lawmakers to show their constituents during next week’s congressional break.

“Now is the time to fix Social Security for future generations. All ideas are on the table,” it says — but it mentions only the president’s proposal to allow workers younger than 55 to divert part of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. Republican congressional officials have said repeatedly in recent weeks that administration plans assume a cut in future benefits that are promised to individuals in the same age group.

The cut would be deeper for those who opened a private account than for those who did not, according to these officials, who have spoken on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the White House.

Torrent of information marshaled
The slide show is part of a collection of charts, graphs, talking points and videotape for Senate Republicans to use as they prepare for appearances in their home states next week. The White House and Republican leaders eagerly await such sessions, hoping they can help swing public opinion behind Bush’s call for a comprehensive overhaul of the Depression-era program.

Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman showed rank-and-file senators a videotape of Bush campaigning for his plan in several states. Addressing Republicans at a closed-door meeting, he cited polling that indicated that support for private accounts as part of an overhaul of Social Security was high among ticket splitters and swing voters, as well as among union workers and others who frequently voted Democratic.

Democrats contend that Social Security’s problems are not as severe as Bush says, and they generally oppose the use of payroll taxes for private investment accounts. They also oppose large benefit cuts. Opening a new front, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California charged that Bush’s recommendations would adversely affect millions of widows and children who drew survivor benefits under the program.

“Social Security is not only retirement insurance. It is family insurance, and the benefits are unmatched in the private sector,” she said at a news conference attended by Democratic lawmakers who received survivor benefits as children.

Democrats’ political arm fires back
With Bush scheduled Wednesday to discuss his plans for Social Security in New Hampshire, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, challenged Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley, a second-term lawmaker whose district the president will visit, to take a position.

“Will Bradley clearly state his opposition to the Republican plan to privatize Social Security?” the DCCC asked in a statement that quoted him as having said during the 2002 campaign that it was “crystal clear” that he would not support such a proposal. A call to Bradley’s office was not immediately returned.

Many Republicans contend that Bush’s plan is different from privatization, and the claimed distinction is likely to take on political significance over the next two years.

Polling data included in the Senate Republican material notes that support for Bush’s overall plans is higher if they are described as “personal accounts” than if they are called privatization. “The consequences of inadequate messaging could be devastating,” lawmakers were warned.

The same poll indicates that younger voters “are very unsatisfied with the current Social Security system, and older voters are very satisfied.” As a result, changes of the type Bush favors draw strong support from younger voters but opposition from seniors overall.

At the same time, voters are more concerned with their own financial security in retirement than they are with having a choice about investments, it adds.

Under estimates prepared by the Social Security Administration, the program’s trust funds will begin to pay out more in benefits than they receive in payroll tax revenue beginning in 2018. By 2042, the funds will be empty, and under the law, benefits will have to be cut for all beneficiaries.

Bush cited those forecasts in his State of the Union address this month to make the case for legislation that includes private accounts, coupled with changes to ensure permanent solvency for the program.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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