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Battle on Social Security to be presented to voters

Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON – Carefully coached and scripted, Democrats and Republicans from Congress will fan out across the country this week to talk to their constituents about overhauling Social Security.

Republicans will head home armed with advice on how to sell President Bush’s proposal to create private investment accounts – including what words to use, how to appeal to the young and old and how to answer likely questions.

Democrats will highlight an Internet-based calculator to show constituents how much they might lose under Bush’s proposal. They also will pack a “tool kit” of talking points and a script to use when inviting people to town-hall meetings.

These unusual levels of preparation underscore the stakes as Congress takes a weeklong Presidents Day recess to talk to Americans about Social Security. It’s the lawmakers’ first real opportunity since Bush made the issue the domestic centerpiece of his new term.

Until now, Bush has had the field largely to himself. He has visited eight states, pitching his proposal to allow Americans under age 55 to divert some of their Social Security taxes into private investment accounts. Yet, he knows he faces an uphill fight. “This idea is going nowhere if Congress does not believe there is a problem,” Bush said.

Republicans from Congress will take soundings back home all week.

“This is sort of a starting point for our members,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Finance subcommittee on Social Security.

“This is a long process. This is not a bill that we’re going to take up in the next few weeks,” he said.

Democrats have their own sales props.

“Democrats are opening a second front … to show the American people that their benefits will get cut under the Bush plan,” said New York Sen. Charles Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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