Social Security Administration dipping into politics, report says

House Democratic leaders released a report Monday charging the Bush administration with politicizing the Social Security Administration by working with the SSA to alter its message strategy to support Bush's agenda.

The report states that SSA has "markedly changed its communications to the public over the last four years," citing language and message changes in informational brochures, news releases, and a communications presentation provided to employees that have grown increasingly negative on the future of Social Security.

"Although the solvency of the Social Security system has improved over the last four years," the report states, "the public communications from the agency have grown more dire."

The report is based on a review of over 4,000 pages of agency documents from the past decade.

"The Bush administration must stop using the SSA as it tries to scare up support for privatizing Social Security," Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich, said in a statement. "The agency must reassert its independence and promote its goal -- professional, nonpartisan administration of the Social Security programs." At presstime, calls to the agency had not been returned.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, meanwhile, when asked whether President Bush would support new retirement accounts as an add-on to the Social Security system, pointed to Bush's openness to all ideas about changing Social Security, except for raising payroll tax rates.

But McClellan also noted that individuals already have the option of putting their savings into individual retirement accounts, and he reiterated Bush's commitment to his own proposal, which would use payroll taxes to fund retirement accounts.

And Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., launched a pre-emptive strike Monday against a public relations blitz Democrats are planning for next weekend, challenging Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to debate Social Security reform when Reid visits Phoenix as part of a four-state "fly around" planned by the Democratic leader.

In a letter to Reid, Kolbe, who has introduced Social Security legislation with Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., challenges the minority leader to debate the various reform proposals being floated on Capitol Hill, arguing that "is an issue of paramount importance to Americans; and as members of Congress, we have a responsibility to debate our views in public."

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