Social security as political football

The football season is months away, but political football is in full swing on Capitol Hill, where the Social Security System is providing the pigskin, Monitor correspondent Julia Malone reports.

Republicans made the first move earlier this month with a television ad featuring a genial-looking actor as a mail carrier. ''I'm probably one of the most popular people in town,'' he says. ''I'm delivering social security checks with the 7.4 percent cost-of-living raise that President Reagan promised.''

The ad, blanketing 65 percent of the nation at a cost of $1 million, is a clear bid to improve the President's poor image on this most sensitive of political issues. And it has touched off an uproar among Democrats, who unveiled their own 30-second TV spot Thursday.

In the Democratic ad, a hand holds a social security card while a pair of scissors snips it to pieces. ''The Republicans all say they believe in social security,'' the narrator says. ''Look what they do. In 1981 they tried to cut cost-of-living increases by $60 billion over 10 years.''

Unlike the GOP, the Democrats have little money to buy TV time. Instead, they are asking some 60 TV stations to donate time under the ''fairness doctrine.'' Whether they get the ad time or not, they can win enough news coverage to keep the controversy alive. Democrats have long considered social security their strongest campaign issue.

Both Democrats and Republicans considered making limited cutbacks in social security increases during budget talks this year. Although the leaders on both sides eventually backed away, many on Capitol Hill say Congress must change the social security system soon, or risk insolvency. A blue-ribbon panel is expected to produce a social security reform plan next fall, after the congressional elections.

Meanwhile, the social security football will be kicked from one end of the political field to the other.

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