FDR, Social Security fight a testy combo

WASHINGTON – President Bush’s attempts to assuage voter concern over his Social Security plan by repeatedly praising the program’s creator – Franklin D. Roosevelt – drew the ire of the late Democratic president’s grandson, James Roosevelt Jr., Saturday.

The two dueled in separate radio addresses, a political format pioneered by the elder Roosevelt. The current president squared off against the Roosevelt scion in a crossfire of claims and counterclaims.

“Social Security has been there for generations of Americans, and together we will strengthen it for generations to come,” Bush assured listeners of his weekly radio address.

“I agree with the … principle that America’s workers deserve a secure retirement,” replied James Roosevelt in the official Democratic response. “Unfortunately, President Bush and Washington Republicans do not share this belief.”

In his address, Bush said: “We must provide a better and stronger system for younger workers… . That is why I have proposed allowing younger Americans to place some of your payroll taxes in voluntary personal retirement accounts.”

Retorted Roosevelt: “The biggest problem with the president’s privatization scheme is that his private accounts do nothing to strengthen Social Security. They do not prolong the life of the program by a single day.”

Bush has seen support for his Social Security accounts slide even as he has launched a new campaign to sell the idea with carefully choreographed political events around the country. In response, Bush has spoken warmly about the program and the elder Roosevelt.

But the president’s recalibrated rhetoric has produced only mixed results to date least in part because of its split-screen nature, a quality that was on prominent display during the president’s Saturday address.

Bush opened by speaking directly to older workers. “I am assuring those of you born before 1950 that Social Security will remain the same… . No matter what the scare ads and politicians might tell you, you will get your checks.”

Bush then pivoted to what even some Republican analysts have conceded is a seemingly divergent assertion that trouble lies ahead.

“You younger workers know what is happening to Social Security,” he declared. “The present pay-as-you-go system is going broke.”

In his remarks, Roosevelt acknowledged that Social Security’s long-term finances are in need of repair. But the lawyer and former associate Social Security commissioner during the Clinton administration asserted that Democrats would not cooperate with the White House and the GOP congressional majority as long as the president continued to push his plan for private accounts.

“It is time to address the long-term solvency of Social Security,” James Roosevelt said. “But first, the president must take his privatization scheme off the table.”

The Roosevelt descendant has stepped into the debate over Social Security at several points in recent months.

In January, he publicly objected when an interest group favoring accounts used his grandfather’s image in television ads. Last month, he blasted Fox News anchor Brit Hume for citing comments that made it appear the elder Roosevelt favored private accounts, labeling the claim an “outrageous distortion.”

Earlier this month at a political gathering in Maine, Roosevelt said his grandfather’s position on accounts was clear.

“He was all for investment programs; he started out as a Wall Street lawyer. But he also believed … that people should be able to count on secure bases of income and retirement so they could have decent food, clothing and housing in their retirement.”

Bush will continue his drive for Social Security accounts with a campaign stop this week in Florida and appearances next week in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

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