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Democrats fight back on Social Security

Hillary Clinton leads attack on Bush proposals, starting on friendly turf in New York City.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 8, 2005



NEW YORK

In her mid-20s and determined to build a better life, Maria Lado liked the idea of President Bush's proposed private accounts for Social Security.

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"It's sounding good. It's something that is your own, instead of sharing. That's what makes it appealing to me," says the Pace University student, who is studying to be a physician's assistant.

Still, she has an open mind, so last week she took her Friday morning to attend a town meeting in Manhattan moderated by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to hear what the Democrats had to say. On the stage was a big blue banner painted with a Social Security card and the Democrats' motto: "Strengthen Social Security - Fix It, Don't Nix It."

"We want to be sure that we set the record straight here about the risky privatization plan that the president has been pushing across the country," Senator Clinton told packed house at Pace, in lower Manhattan. "The president's plan would make our problems worse and weaken social security by taking trillions of dollars out of the trust fund and out of our budget. The plan would cut benefits by more than a third, even for those who did not choose to have a private account."

With polls showing support faltering for the president's plan to carve out personal accounts from the current Social Security system and talk of compromise in Congress coming even from Republicans now, the Democrats apparently want to build on their growing momentum. In a whirlwind of four town meetings two days, they brought out their big guns.

In New York, Clinton was joined on the stage by new Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and erstwhile presidential candidate John Kerry, as well as fellow Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. For most Americans, the names might draw a blank, but think of them as the Democrats' A Team, the ones they're now turning to in this new trench warfare over the nation's retirement safety net.

A city receptive to their message

Here, at least, they found a receptive audience. This is the home of Union Square, the city that voted more than 80 percent for John Kerry in 2004. An informal survey of the crowd found that 90 percent were already opposed to the president's plan. And in keeping with the tack that has won the feisty city its reputation for understatement, participants expressed their feelings on Bush's plan in expressions like "all hogwash," "a disaster," "just outrageous," and "the biggest crock of nonsense I've heard in years."

"There's such tremendous incompetence on the part of the administration in the way that they package their program and the incoherence of their arguments," says retired senior Marvin Lieberman. "On the other hand, they're also very clever because they see this as a wedge issue that will allow them to take over politics the way the Democrats did for so many years."

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