ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Republican Sen. John McCain, sitting alongside President Bush at a Social Security event here Tuesday, threw a few punches at those he says are blocking change.
McCain took a jab at AARP, the lobby for older citizens, which has been buying television and newspaper advertisements in cities Bush is visiting to oppose his idea to let younger workers divert some of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts.
"Some of our friends, who are opposing this idea, say, 'Oh, you don't have to worry until 2042.' We wait until 2042 when we stop paying people Social Security?" the Arizona Republican asked rhetorically at the Social Security event here.
The Social Security trustees have said 2042 is the year when the trust fund will be empty and the program will have only annual payroll taxes to pay benefits.
"I want to say to our friends in AARP, and they are my friends in AARP, 'Come to the table with us,"' McCain said. "We not only have an obligation to seniors, but we have an obligation to future generations of Americans as well."
John Rother, policy director for AARP, says his organization does not want to wait until 2042, but favors a solution that is less radical than the private accounts.
"If we can get away from private accounts and get away from creating massive new debt, then that would be a more constructive discussion that we would be happy to participate in," Rother said.
"This isn't a political issue," Bush insisted, in New Mexico. "This isn't, you know, Democrats trying to get ahead of Republicans or Republicans trying to get ahead of Democrats. If that's the spirit in Washington, nothing's going to get done."
Social Security, however, is among the most divisive issues in political circles today.
McCain nudged his New Mexico colleague in the Senate, Democrat Jeff Bingaman, to support private accounts. Bingaman said private accounts would do nothing to strengthen the program's solvency and would lead to a reduction in benefits to seniors.
"It's true that in about 50 years, Social Security will be required to pay out more than it is collecting," said Bingaman, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security. "There are steps we can and should take to strengthen Social Security for the future. And there's no question that we should encourage Americans to save for their retirement so that they are not depending solely on Social Security during their golden years. But privatizing Social Security is not the answer."