VERMILLION, S.D. – Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), in his first visit to his home state since losing the November election, served notice Tuesday that he will continue to debate President Bush (search) and the Republican Party on policy issues.
The GOP is on the wrong track seeking to change Social Security (search) and other programs, the former Democratic senator said in a speech to about 1,000 people at the University of South Dakota.
Daschle criticized the GOP plan to let younger workers divert some of their Social Security savings into private investment accounts, saying it could jeopardize the safety net many Americans depend on for retirement.
He said he supports private investments as additional savings — not a replacement for traditional Social Security benefits.
"We have allowed our notion for freedom in all of its gifts to degrade somewhat," Daschle said. "But in an age of such remarkable wealth and affluence, could we not as a nation work together to include economic security that makes freedom real?"
The event included a dinner and remarks from former Republican Gov. Bill Janklow, who resigned from Congress in his first term last year after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter.
"Wherever you had an impact, you made the neighborhood a better place to live. You're a darn good neighbor," Janklow told Daschle. The pair have been friends for a number of years.
Janklow, 65, was convicted in 2003 for speeding through a stop sign and colliding with a motorcyclist, who died instantly. Janklow spent 100 days in jail. His convictions recently were upheld by the state Supreme Court.
Also speaking were former Sen. George McGovern and USA Today founder Al Neuharth.
"I think there's a great, great future ahead for Tom Daschle. We're going to hear more about him," McGovern said, crediting Daschle for helping to secure money for programs that feed hungry people in the United States and around the world.
Daschle served four terms in the U.S. House and three terms in the U.S. Senate before losing by 4,500 votes to former Republican Rep. John Thune last year.
"America is still a closely divided nation," Daschle said. "Some have said the November election signifies a sea change in American politics. But I believe that any predictions of a permanent shift are premature."