WASHINGTON – A new organization created to defeat President Bush's plans for Social Security (search) intends to open a television ad campaign this week depicting the proposal as the tip of an iceberg that will cut benefits and raise the national debt.
Erik Smith, a spokeman for ProtectYourCheck.org, said the group will spend nearly $1 milion to show the commercial on cable stations nationally over the next three weeks. Other ads will follow on broadcast stations, he said, aimed at individual lawmakers of both parties.
The new organization is the latest entry into what has become something of an extention of last year's presidential campaign.
The White House, Republican Party and outside groups are working to build support for Bush's Social Security proposal. On the other side, the Democratic Party, former aides to John Kerry and others who worked in outside organizations to elect him are now trying to torpedo the top domestic initiative of Bush's second term.
The ad will air as Congress returns from a two-week break and the administration moves into the second half of an intensive 60-day campaign to raise public support for Bush's call for Social Security legislation.
Recent surveys indicate that Americans in growing numbers believe Social Security faces financial difficulties. Yet polls also indicate the public is increasingly skeptical of the president's call for voluntary personal accounts for younger workers as part of any overhaul.
The commercial by ProtectYourCheck is designed to strengthen that skepticism.
It opens with the picture of an iceberg jutting above the water. "The plan that George Bush and his backers in Congress have to privatize Social Security. Look below the surface and you'll find ... benefit checks cut almost in half. $5 trillion in new debt," says the announcer.
"This makes the anti-privatization argument of benefit cuts and inreased debt," said Smith.
He declined to say precisely how much the group intends to spend on the ad, except to say that the total for the first three weeks would approach $1 million.
Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican party, called the ad part of a "a disingenuous scare campaign. The Democrats false attacks can't mask the fact that the vast majority of Americans understand Social Security faces problems that need to be addressed now, and the American people also understand that President Bush is demonstrating principled leadership" on the issue," he added.
Other organizations already have run ads on the Social Security issue.
One, Progress for America (search), says it spent at least $3 million in March alone on commercials designed to build support for the president's plan.
In addition to Smith, key officials in ProtectYourCheck include Harold Ickes (search), a former top aide to Bill Clinton, as well as Jim Jordan, who was John Kerry's first campaign manager.
Ickes, Jordan and Smith all were involved with The Media Fund (search), a group that poured tens of millions of dollars into television commercials in an unsuccessful attempt to put Kerry in the White House.
Under Bush's plan, Social Security would not change for current beneficiaries or workers age 55 and older.
Republicans familiar with the outline of his proposal say other workers would receive a lower guaranteed benefit than they are now entitled to. The reduction would be larger for individuals who create personal accounts, on the assumption that their earnings would offset at least some of the difference.
The most recent government forecast says that in 2017, Social Security trust funds will begin paying out more in benefits than it takes in. In 2041, the trust funds will be empty, and benefits will have to be cut.