Even before the White House recently hinted that Social Security reform was still on the administration’s radar screen, Democratic leaders and their allies privately had been plotting to resurrect an issue they believe can help inch them to electoral victories this fall.
Democratic Congressional leaders are planning a major event later this month and are looking to tie their “anti-privatization” Social Security message to legislative items moving through Congress in the coming weeks. Senate and House Democrats are still working out the details of their strategy, but leadership aides in both chambers say Members plan to bring the issue up on the floor, at home in their districts, in message events and in radio addresses through November.
“We’re going to look for every opportunity to bring it up,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide. “It’s not going to be just one thing. It’s fair to say you are going to hear people talk about it all the way to the election.”
Democrats believe they can recreate some of the political momentum they gained last year in launching a massive political offensive to sideline the efforts of President Bush to overhaul the entitlement program.
To counter Bush’s argument that the program is broken and will go bankrupt if major revisions are not enacted in the near term, Democrats claimed Bush was trying to put the program in private hands without government protection and create a risky system without guaranteed long-term benefits.
Both parties have remained fairly quiet on the topic for months.
But as recently as last month, Bush, his chief of staff Josh Bolten and some Congressional Republicans have suggested revisions to Social Security can and still should be addressed. Democrats, who had been meeting on the issue already, say those statements gave them added incentive to pursue their efforts.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “made a strategic decision a long time ago not to let this go,” said Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman. “We were planning on highlighting the issue anyway, and lo and behold much to our surprise President Bush and House and Senate Republicans a couple of weeks ago went public again with plans to privatize Social Security.”
Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), acknowledged that there are few legislative opportunities left in the House this year to highlight party differences on Social Security revisions. But Daly said Members still plan to “talk about it whenever they can to remind people that this isn’t just a fleeting idea.”
“This is something Republicans are committed to — they want to privatize Social Security,” he said. “Is it politically good for us? Yes. But that’s not why it’s such a big deal. Democrats are committed to protecting Social Security because it is one of our core values.”
Like the GOP efforts to win political points on national security and the economy this year, Democrats believe they, too, can follow up a former success story with a compelling sequel, or at least recapture some of that one-time energy on the issue. What’s more, unlike issues like the Iraq war, party members are nearly uniform in their opposition to proposals to privatize any aspect of Social Security.