After supporting President Bush's controversial prescription-drug plan, the AARP is lining up on the opposite side of his latest ambitious legislative proposal: to revamp Social Security by allowing workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. The mighty advocacy group for older Americans will launch a $5 million newspaper-ad campaign this week arguing that the plan is too risky.
It's the opening salvo in what promises to be a bitter and protracted battle. The Club for Growth, an influential advocacy group favoring smaller government and lower taxes, has raised $2 million so far toward a planned $15 million national push in support of Bush's goals. The battle will be waged not just with rhetoric but with dollars too. Because Democrats have given the term privatization a negative tinge, advocates prefer to call it personalization, emphasizing control and ownership rights. Says Club for Growth president Stephen Moore: "Words matter."
But money matters too, and even within the G.O.P. there are sharp disagreements--over, for instance, how the government will cover the shortfall in Social Security revenue promised to today's seniors during the transition to private accounts. Some favor borrowing the money, while others think taxes need to be raised or benefits cut to avoid adding to the deficit. The President, while opposing tax hikes, has yet to deliver a concrete proposal. "If you can fix this thing without pain, sign me up," says Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. And if you can escape the propaganda war over Social Security in '05, you're not paying attention. --By Eric Roston