Asbury Park Press

N.J. Dems Vow To Fight Bush Social Security Plan

Asbury Park Press — Tuesday, February 15, 2005

By TOM BALDWIN/GANNETT STATE BUREAU
STAFF

TRENTON — Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey on the state and federal levels Monday vowed they will try to block a plan by President Bush to allow some Americans to privately invest part of what they would otherwise pay into Social Security.

Four congressmen, a state senator and two members of the state Assembly berated the Bush administration's idea, which the Republican president is touting as a remedy for a Social Security program Bush says is facing a financial crisis.

The Democrats accused Bush of misleading voters with scare tactics about Social Security's solvency to try to see a huge injection of money go through the hands of brokerage houses.

Rep. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., called the Bush plan a classic a huge example of pay-to-play politics, where private interests donate to political campaigns expecting financial gains through contracts or policies.

Andrews said Wall Street companies and the insurance industry were the Bush campaign's largest donors and that Wall Street companies would benefit from the investors with newfound Social Security money.

"This is the ultimate in pay to play," Andrews said.

Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J., warned taxpayers who opt for investing on their own will have to pay an average 70 cents on the dollar on gains in what Pallone called a "privatization tax" about which Bush is carefully mum.

Bush has said he wants to give voters the option of investing a portion of their Social Security money in stock-market funds.

Now the money lands in the government-managed Social Security trust fund that has accumulated since 1935 as a pillar of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal to end the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., said before 1935, "to be old was, on average, to be destitute."

"When regular Americans get a cold, African Americans get pneumonia," said Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., who said tinkering with Social Security would hurt blacks disproportionately because they rely more on the program as their retirement income.

State Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, called the Bush plan "a disaster for everyone," and her sentiments were echoed by Assembly members Linda R. Greenstein, D-Middlesex, and Michael J. Panter Jr., D-Monmouth.

Panter, who as an investment planner works in the industry Andrews would say could benefit from Bush's plan, stressed later that he sincerely does think the idea is unsound.

The lawmakers spoke at a news conference organized by New Jersey Citizen Action, which released a report from a Washington-based think tank called the Institute for America's Future that says cuts in benefits would overwhelm any stock-market gains.

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