Anonymous message spurs calls to Capitol Hill |
By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Even before President Bush offers details of his plan to overhaul Social Security, Republicans in Congress are being flooded with calls opposing it.
Thousands of people called Capitol Hill and local offices this week after receiving an anonymous, recorded message that said their representatives support "privatizing Social Security." Recipients were given a toll-free number that connected them to the Capitol. The number belonged to the American Federation of Teachers, which said its line was hijacked.
The recorded message reached people in at least 17 Republican congressional districts in 13 states and may have gone out to more than two dozen districts, says House Republican Conference spokesman Greg Crist. Among those targeted: Louisiana's Jim McCrery and Florida's Clay Shaw, the top two Republicans on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security.
The recorded message to constituents says in a woman's voice, "The Social Security trust fund should be in a lockbox, not a Wall Street slot machine."
The call was "pretty cowardly," said Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera said his party isn't behind the calls; so did groups opposing Bush's plan to create private investment accounts within the Social Security system, including AARP.
The early, anonymous lobbying illustrates the huge stakes in what will be one of the fiercest policy battles in years.
"The dirty tricks have begun," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
AARP opposes any plan to divert tax money into private accounts and has already spent $5 million on ads opposing the accounts. CEO William Novelli called that "just a beginning" and said the group will run more ads all year. In response to Republican fears that altering Social Security could cost them re-election, Bush has promised political cover.
The automated phone message, which appeared to target senior citizens, accuses House Republicans of supporting a plan that "would cost taxpayers $2 trillion" and "decrease future benefits to retirees by 47%."
The teachers union, whose toll-free number was given in the message, says the number was stolen. It disconnected the line Thursday.
"We don't know anything about this," spokeswoman Janet Bass said.
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's Florida district was among those targeted by what she called "tele-scare tactics." She got nearly 300 calls.
"It's despicable," she said.