The Note: Oh, Somewhere in This Favored Land the Sun Is Shining Bright

"This month, Republican leaders say they are chucking the open town-hall format. They plan to visit newspaper editorial boards and talk to constituents at Rotary Club lunches, senior citizen centers, chambers of commerce meetings and local businesses. In those settings, 'there isn't an opportunity for it to disintegrate into something that's less desirable,' says Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference."

"Republican leaders are urging their party's lawmakers to take the spotlight off themselves by convening panels of experts from the Social Security Administration, conservative think tanks, local colleges and like-minded interest groups to answer questions about the federal retirement program."

"The shift in venues and formats, Santorum says, is aimed at producing 'more of an erudite discussion' about Social Security's problems and possible solutions."

Cluck, cluck, cluck, go the Democrats over this one. We wonder if all those GOP Members' quotes were given with press secretaries in the room.

If the overhaul doesn't happen this year, it won't happen for many years, Sen. Grassley told The Hill. LINK

Bloomberg's Brendan Murray looks at the question of whether the trust fund is real or illusion, in the face of President Bush and Karl Rove (making a little-Noticed Cavuto appearance yesterday) educating the public on their view yesterday.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank enjoyed the Republicans' 1935 Social Security event yesterday on Capitol Hill. LINK

Tomorrow at 10:00 am ET, Dr. Peter R. Orszag of the Brookings Institution, the Tax Policy Center, and Urban Institute, Gene Sperling, and Dr. Christian E. Weller join Sarah Rosen Wartell at the Center for American Progress to discuss the idea of personal accounts and the President's proposals to overhaul Social Security.

House of Labor meets Social Security:

The AFL-CIO plans to step up its campaign against financial services firms who're part of the coalition favoring private accounts by staging 50 demonstrations outside company headquarters and branches on March 31.

The protests will take place in San Francisco, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

Previous AFL-CIO protests led two firms, Waddell and Reed and Edwards Jones, to drop out of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, which is linked closely with the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce's efforts to promote personal retirement accounts. AWRS is funded in part by the Security Industries Association.

This is to some extent of course a publicity stunt, but it will probably be somewhat effective because these companies don't like the publicity and take pains already to distance themselves from endorsing any particular Social Security reform legislation.

AFL-CIO's biggest targets are Wachovia, with its millions of every-day customers, and Charles Schwab with its legions of small investors. They hope that by linking Schwab's name with Social Security privatization in the press, Schwab will disaffiliate from AWRS. Same thing with Wachovia. The marches will also target the credit card company MBNA and insurances companies who aren't part of the coalition but who have expressed support for personal accounts, like Cigna, MetLife and Prudential.

Schwab has issued several public statements saying that its participation in AWRS is only informational and that it hasn't taken a position on Social Security legislation.

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