Social Security Debate Takes Nasty Turn

ByABC News
February 28, 2005, 3:48 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2005 — -- Those hoping that the political debate over Social Security would remain lofty and logical should prepare for a more down-and-dirty fight being waged by both the left and the right.

Perhaps most notably, some of the Republicans behind the controversial Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that challenged the war record of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry are now targeting AARP, an advocacy group for people age 50 and older, for opposing President Bush's plan for Social Security reform.

The group, called USA Next, claims AARP's real agenda is anti-military and pro-gay marriage. An Internet ad featuring such claims was the opening salvo in a $10 million campaign to support Bush's policy and discredit its opponents.

"AARP is one of the planet's largest, left, liberal lobbying organizations," said Charlie Jarvis, chairman and chief executive of USA Next, and a former official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

AARP would not comment. However, the charge that it is anti-military may be based on the fact that the seniors' advocacy group does not take positions on veterans' issues.

The claim that AARP is in favor of same-sex marriage apparently stems from the Ohio chapter's objection to that state's ban on same-sex marriage. AARP says it opposed the law because it was broad enough to also affect unmarried heterosexual retirees who live together.

With more than 35 million members, AARP is one of Washington's most powerful lobbies -- which is why the Bush administration was delighted when, in 2002, the group threw its support behind the president's Medicare prescription drug benefit bill.

USA Next acknowledges it has a larger goal: Just as the "Swift Boat" ads challenged Kerry's integrity and honesty, "that's exactly what we're doing with AARP," said Jarvis. "We're going to do everything we can to remove them as an obstacle to personal retirement accounts and Social Security."