Republicans have obtained a congressional staff memo they say proves that Democrats want to use Social Security for scare tactics, not serious debate.
The memo, mistakenly sent by e-mail to a Republican staff member on Capitol Hill, contains an apparent draft opinion piece on Social Security and reaction from staffers in the office of Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Ohio Democrat. The memo argues that President Bush and Republicans want to "privatize" Social Security, which the author likens to "corporate gambling."
But another Kaptur staff member responded that the information in the opinion piece was "not entirely factually accurate," adding: "Talk about scaring seniors — this may be a little over the top. But it is sooo fun to bash Republicans." She included an e-mail "smiley face" — :) — after her comment.
"This is exactly what Democratic leaders have been saying — scaring seniors, lying, going over the top," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which made the e-mail public.
But Democratic leaders dismissed complaints about the e-mail.
"If that is scaring people, then we're going to have to go back to the dictionary and figure out the word 'scare,' because if it's scaring them, it's scaring them because of what is in the president's proposal," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt said.
By 2016, Social Security will take in less money each year in payroll taxes than the program needs to cover beneficiaries. Last year, Mr. Bush charged a special commission with examining ways to shore up the system, and they reported back three alternatives based on personal investment accounts.
Republicans in Congress have come up with legislation on Social Security, but leaders have said they don't want to move the bills this year and will instead use the November elections to gauge support for the proposals.
Democrats, though, say the issue should be debated this year. Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, introduced a procedural motion Wednesday designed to force a vote in the House on the three plans proposed by the president's commission earlier this year.
"We want people to understand the impact of privatization on their lives," Mr. Gephardt said. "We want them to understand that privatization will cause a cut in benefits. It will break our contract with the American people. It will fundamentally change the way Social Security operates."
Mr. Davis, who as chairman of the NRCC is charged with getting House Republicans elected, has said Republicans need a strategy to answer attacks on Social Security but are confident they can respond adequately.
It's not clear whether the opinion piece from Miss Kaptur's office was ever used in a newspaper or mailing.
Steve Fought, the congresswoman's legislative director and press secretary, who was on the recipient list for the e-mail exchange, did not return phone calls. But he told the Associated Press that the e-mail discussion concerned whether to link Republicans' plans on Social Security to the collapse of Enron Corp. Democrats have tried to use the energy giant's failure, which emptied many of its employees' retirement funds, as a symbol for why the president's proposal won't work.
The e-mail apparently was sent by accident to a Republican staff member in March and ended up in the hands of Mr. Davis last week.
"That's just one that was sent to the wrong office. You wonder how many of these go around every day from Democratic office to Democratic office that we never see," Mr. Davis said. "To think this is just a few errant staffers is naive."
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