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Posted: Wednesday, February 2nd 2005 at 10:05am

Bush's Social Security plan divides Georgia Democrats, Republicans

By The Associated Press

President Bush used his State of the Union address Wednesday night to tout a Social Security overhaul sure to be received differently by younger and older Americans, but the immediate reviews from Georgia lawmakers were less tied to age than political affiliation.

Georgia Democrats depicted the plan as a potential disaster that could actually leave the retirement system in worse financial shape, but Republicans praised its boldness and immediately defended some of the details.

"It's a system that was good for a different generation and a different time, but it's broken now and it needs fixing," said Rep. Tom Price, a Republican who joined the House last month.

The delegation's most vocal opposition came from Rep. David Scott, a Democrat who has sided with Bush on several other major items. Scott criticized the private investment accounts for younger Americans _ a hallmark of Bush's plan _ as an unfunded expense that will do nothing to help protect baby boomers who are approaching retirement age.

Scott, who is black, took particular offense at Bush's earlier comments that this would be a better deal for blacks because they have a shorter life expectancy. That is only the case because of infant mortality rates, not any tendency for adult blacks, Scott said.

"It's almost like cutting a man's legs out from under him then condemn him for being crippled," said Scott, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "You do nothing about the problem."

The delegation's newest Democrat, Rep. John Barrow, said the plan attempted too much, too soon. The Social Security system needs to be fixed, he said, but bankruptcy is decades away.

"Social Security reform is a little bit like your car," Barrow said. "If it needs a fine-tuning, you don't rip out the engine and transmission."

But another freshman, Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, said Democrats were wrong in trying to make the case that private accounts for the young won't help assure benefits for the soon-to-be-retired. For economic reasons alone, Westmoreland says the plan makes sense.

"You're going to be putting $7 trillion into the market," Westmoreland said. "If you can stimulate the economy, that takes the pressure off the Social Security system."

Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, attending his first State of the Union address since moving from the House to the Senate this year, dismissed naysayers who contend younger Americans won't be able to adequately build a portfolio to protect their retirement nest egg.

The only options available to them will be sound investments, Isakson said _ a mix of stocks and bonds historically proven to grow at a far better rate than Social Security currently does.

"It's not going to be mad money," Isakson said.

During his address, much of which was dedicated to Social Security, Bush underscored the argument that benefits wouldn't be cut for those approaching retirement. Opinion polls have shown much skepticism from older people about changing the system.

"Do not let anyone mislead you," said Bush, in a message for people 55 and older. "For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way."

Still, Democratic lawmakers from Georgia suggested older Americans would continue to question Bush's direction on the issue and blame the Republicans for reaching too high.

"I think the elderly know the Democratic Party has been really the fathers and mothers of Social Security," said Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat and dean of the Georgia delegation. "We're not about to throw the child overboard."

Associated Categories: State News

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