Students plan “snow job” to boost Social Security private accounts campaign

WASHINGTON — Privatization foes in the Social Security debate have tried to pressure members of Congress by following them in waffle and duck costumes. Now supporters of private investment accounts are preparing a Capitol Hill snow job.

Dozens of college students who support the accounts plan to spend Wednesday afternoon lobbying members of the Senate Finance Committee — after a news conference staged amid imported snow and ice sculptures in the summer haze hanging over the capital.

“The imagery has multiple meanings,” said Jonathan Swanson, a Yale University senior who co-founded Students for Saving Social Security. “It can mean, `Our future melting away,’ or, `Congress is giving us the cold shoulder,’ or, `Congress is freezing us out of the debate,’ or anything else catchy you can think of.”

Swanson, a 22-year-old from Plymouth, Minn., and a friend, Patrick Wetherille, also 22, a senior at Haverford College, started the group in March amid complaints that young people were largely absent from the Social Security debate despite having a huge stake in the outcome.

Most of the proposed overhauls would affect people younger than 55, with little impact on those older than that. President Bush has cast his signature proposal — diverting a portion of payroll taxes to personal investment accounts — as most beneficial to young people, saying money deposited in the accounts will grow faster through the long-term effects of compounding interest.

Democrats have steadfastly opposed personal accounts, saying the tax diversion is a backdoor attempt to dismantle the Depression-era program by replacing its guaranteed government check with investments subject to a cyclical stock market.

The Democrats have been supported by Americans United to Protect Social Security. Its members spent the July 4 recess following undecided members of the House Ways and Means Committee in their districts in waffle costumes or, in one case, a duck suit.

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are slated to review potential overhaul options on Thursday. In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., aims to have his panel pass a comprehensive retirement security package — including Social Security changes — before Congress takes its summer recess at the end of the month.

“It’s partisan here in D.C., but people support private accounts out in the country, even kids who hate Bush,” Swanson said in an interview. Joining him were Ursula Williams, 27, of Long Beach, Calif., who quit her job with a public affairs company to join the group, and Ben Ferguson, a 23-year-old radio show host and senior at the University of Mississippi.

They are part of a core group of a dozen who have organized chapters on about 150 college campuses. The group has received office space and technical support from the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America’s Social Security and the Club for Growth, two pro-account lobbying groups.

“The government is spending our money,” Swanson said, decrying the congressional practice of borrowing and spending surplus Social Security taxes for other government programs. “We don’t want a handout. Just give us our money.”

On the Net:

Students for Saving Social Security:

Social Security Administration: