Senate Dems target SSA official for promoting Bush plan

Senate Democrats are investigating whether Social Security Administration Assistant Commissioner Andrew Biggs violated a federal ban on congressional lobbying by federal employees when he edited the prepared testimony for a lobbyist appearing before a recent Democratic Policy Committee Social Security hearing, Senate aides said Wednesday.

Democrats have been investigating SSA's involvement in White House efforts to promote President Bush's Social Security plan for months, including questioning Biggs' role in several town hall-style meetings Bush has held on the issue.

An electronic copy of testimony before a May 12 DPC panel by Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security Executive Director Derrick Max includes edits made by Biggs, who also serves as deputy director of the White House National Economic Council.

Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan of North Dakota sent a letter Wednesday to SSA Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart demanding to know whether Biggs did in fact edit the testimony and warning that the issue "relates directly to whether SSA is discharging its mandate to administer the Social Security programs in a non-political, non-partisan manner."

A White House spokesman could not be reached for comment. But a White House source familiar with the testimony acknowledged that Biggs provided "minor" editorial assistance to Max.

The White House source, who requested anonymity, argued Democrats are hyping the issue, pointing out that Biggs and Max have a longstanding personal relationship.

Max also acknowledged discussing his testimony with Biggs during the May 12 hearing, telling the committee that, "he certainly was given a copy of this and provided thoughts and insights, but I consider him a friend more than a work colleague."

According to a copy of Max's testimony obtained by CongressDaily, most of the edits appear to be small editorial changes. However, Biggs in one edit says, "I might not use charts that the [White House] put together."

However, at the end of the testimony Biggs advises Max to "include some info from the doc we put out yesterday; it shows that widows and divorced women do better than scheduled and the plan pulls a lot of them out of poverty."

Biggs' relationship with Max and other conservative backers of President Bush's plan to include private savings accounts in Social Security is coming under increasing scrutiny by congressional Democrats, particularly Biggs' work in conservative think tanks in recent years.

Biggs and Max are both former researchers for the Cato Institute, where they worked on Social Security proposals.

Biggs also worked for the Congressional Institute in 1999 as the group's research director, during which time he developed a series of policy and message documents on Social Security.

In 1999, Biggs authored a Congressional Institute white paper titled "Social Security Reform and the New Deal Paradigm."

In that paper, Biggs lays out a strategy that uses personal retirement accounts as the genesis for setting the stage to dismantle New Deal-era social welfare programs.

According to the paper, private accounts similar to those in Bush's Social Security plan would engender the shift by severing the ties of middle-class and wealthy Americans to government assistance programs and diminishing political support for social welfare programs.

"Market investment of payroll taxes sets the stage for a broader rapprochement between labor and capital and a new political culture that rejects government intervention in favor of individual and market freedom. In that way, Social Security reform featuring Personal Retirement Accounts doesn't send just one liberal sacred cow to the slaughterhouse. It sends the whole herd," Biggs wrote in 1999.

Although the White House source stressed that Biggs' position has shifted since his time at the Congressional Institute, Senate Democrats charge the white paper raises serious concerns about Biggs' fitness to set federal retirement policy.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., denounced Biggs' roll in developing Bush's Social Security plan, saying: "It is unconscionable that the president would appoint an avowed enemy of Social Security to help run the program. Mr. Biggs' 1999 manifesto lays out a blueprint of how to destroy Social Security."

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