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Dems rally against Social Security plan

Social Security Administration
Democratic Party

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House and Senate Democrats rallied Thursday against President Bush's plan to revamp Social Security, to show they would not let it pass without a fight.

Forty-three of the 44 Democrat senators, plus Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, signed a letter to the president saying it was "immoral" to borrow more money to pay for the plan, even quoting from the New Testament to make their point.

"We are spending enough of our kids' money," the letter said. "Our country needs to get back to following the teachings of Romans 13:8, which says we should 'let no debt remain outstanding.' "

Bush says the Social Security system is broken and will be "bankrupt" in just a few decades if it's not fixed, and he favors private investment accounts that would be funded by drawing a percentage of money out of Social Security taxes that otherwise would go to pay benefits.

That would force the government to make up the shortfall by either raising taxes, which Bush says he will not do, cutting benefits, or borrowing, as much as $2 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Administration.

The CBO and SSA also say the personal accounts would not stave off any of Social Security's problems.

"In our view, shifting financial obligations of this magnitude to future generations is immoral, unacceptable and unsustainable," the senators' letter said.

"All of us are willing to work with your administration on a plan for Social Security reform that will keep the system solvent for the long term," the senators said. "But we are concerned about the fiscal crisis facing the nation."

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the sole Democrat not to sign the letter, although he has not indicated that he supports Bush's plan. He office has not yet been reached for comment.

Many of the Democrats disagree with Bush's prediction of pending bankruptcy for Social Security as well.

They point to projections by the CBO and SSA that undercut Bush's insistence that the system is in track for insolvency by midcentury.

"Even his own administration says if we do nothing -- which of course, we will do something just as we did when Ronald Reagan was president, and we fixed it in a bipartisan way very easily -- but even if we did nothing, it would still have enough money in there to pay everyone 70 to 80 percent of benefits," said Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Boxer also pointed out that Bush, as a congressional candidate in Texas 27 years ago, said that Social Security would be bankrupt by 1988 if it wasn't privatized.

While Senate Democrats held a symbolic gathering at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington to highlight the president who put Social Security into action, House Democrats gathered on Capitol Hill with Roosevelt's grandson, James Roosevelt.

Democrats are "organized, Democrats are unified, Democrats are ready for this fight," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told the crowd of about 100 on Capitol Hill.

The president's plan, she said, "takes a guaranteed benefit" and turns it "into a guaranteed gamble."

Pelosi was joined by Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York, who said Republicans don't "believe that our government has an obligation to take care of its people."

He told the crowd that some day they would be able to tell their grandchildren that they were here to stop the president's plan to kill Social Security "dead in its tracks."

The Democrats also said the president did not address other benefits covered by Social Security, such as disability payments and survivor benefits.

Charlie Hogan, a 63-year-old widower from Illinois, appeared with the politicians and said his daughter was only 6 years old when his wife died and her survivor benefits are allowing her to go to high school and college.

Hogan, an air-conditioning and heating expert, said he could not have made it through without those benefits, adding that Social Security is like a "backup generator."

"When the income stops, this kicks in," he said.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said FDR's "New Deal was a good deal" that's likely to become "a raw deal" for future retirees.

"For our children and grandchildren, it is going to be a raw deal because they won't get out what they pay in," Grassley said.

"Unless we do something about it, my children and grandchildren are going to be out in the cold."

Bush, who laid out his plans for Social Security during Wednesday night's State of the Union address, began a two-day swing through several states Thursday morning to plug those plans. (Full story)

Pelosi said the president would be met by people every step of the way who support keeping the system the way it is. (Full story)

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