A business-backed coalition promoting private investment accounts for Social Security will begin running TV ads this week in Allentown and 18 other markets with close congressional races.
The Coalition for Moderinzation and Protection of America's Social Security, or COMPASS, is spending between $6 million and $8 million on the campaign, which will also include print ads and direct mail.
Executive Director Derrick Max said the campaign is aimed at reassuring senior voters that retirement benefits won't be cut if younger workers are allowed to invest part of their Social Security taxes in accounts they own.
The coalition includes the Business Roundtable, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the National Association of Manufacturers, the United Seniors Association, the Hispanic Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Although Mark McKinnon, who consulted on President Bush's 2000 campaign, created the ads, coalition leaders said they are not intended to help either party in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 election.
"This is not a Democratic or Republican issue," said Sam Beard, the coalition's Democratic chairman who served on President Bush's Social Security commission. "It's really those who are for reform against those who are not."
According to The Associated Press, the ads will run for two weeks in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.
The coalition declined to provide a full list of specific markets.
The ads state that after "years of debate, bipartisan principles have been agreed upon that will save the [Social Security] system."
They include protecting current benefits for retirees, no tax increases and allowing younger workers "the option to invest a small portion of their Social Security money in accounts they own."
Some Democrats do support the accounts. But most are opposed to them, including Ed O'Brien, who is running for the 15th District congressional seat. The district covers all of Lehigh and Northampton counties and part of Montgomery.
O'Brien calls the proposal a "risky privatization scheme" that could cause retirees to lose their retirement savings in a stock market downturn.
His opponent, Republican incumbent Pat Toomey, is a staunch supporter of investment accounts for Social Security.
Toomey says the accounts will give younger workers a far better return than the government provides and will enable them to build savings they can pass on to their children.
Social Security is running a surplus. But that will change dramatically as the baby boom generation begins to retire in large numbers, leaving fewer workers to support them in the pay-as-you-go system.
Beard said the system faces a $20 trillion debt that, without private accounts, will need either a 50 percent increase in taxes or a 30 percent cut in benefits.
Bush's commission recommended three plans to move toward investment accounts. But critics of the commission's work say the plans would reduce the overall retirement income for most workers and don't account for the transition costs of moving to private accounts.
"We've always said the devil is in the details -- how you structure the benefits and how the accounts would work," said Lee Goldberg, spokesman for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Democrats have accused Republicans of avoiding the issue until after the election.
But Jack Iannantuono, a Lehigh Valley COMPASS member who ran for U.S. Senate in 1998 on the Libertarian ticket, said neither party is taking seriously Social Security's long-term financial problems.
"It could be that people just don't want to deal with difficult issues, and this is a difficult issue to understand, let alone solve," Iannantuono said.