DC rallies as President calls for Social Security reforms

WASHINGTON: President Bush's initiative to drastically reform Social Security has a small army of public affairs pros, lobbyists, and advocacy groups mobilizing across the nation's capital to support or defeat the initiative.

WASHINGTON: President Bush's initiative to drastically reform Social Security has a small army of public affairs pros, lobbyists, and advocacy groups mobilizing across the nation's capital to support or defeat the initiative.

Leading the charge for business interests in support of the President is the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security (AWRS), a lobbying group started by the National Association of Manufacturers.

"Over the next three to six weeks, you'll see a significant increase in our efforts both paid and earned-media-wise," said Derrick Max, executive director of the AWRS.

Also lending support is the newly formed Free Enterprise Fund (FEF), a lobbying group that is an offshoot of Club For Growth, which helped raise $20 million for Bush's re-election.

FEF president Stephen Moore said the goal is to raise $10 million to $15 million for lobbying, media outreach, and TV ads. Which is to say nothing of the time and effort the White House itself has sworn to exert on the issue.

"It's about public relations, interest-group relations, marketing, and education," said Tucker Eskew, former White House media director. "There will be major influential players from finance to business, [along with] a well-developed groundswell of grassroots opinion."

But not everybody mobilizing in favor of the issue is doing so because Social Security reforms offers them any tangible benefit.

"There is an infrastructure among [DC] trade groups, lobbying firms, and others that mobilizes for Bush administration priorities whether they have a direct interest in the initiative or not," said Larry Hass, public affairs director for MS&L. "Their activities go far beyond what you might expect."

Grover Norquist, head of Americans For Tax Reform, an organization working in support of reform, noted that the White House is closely monitoring the issue.

"The White House has done a very good job of keeping in touch with all the people who care about this issue," Norquist said. "They've been very good at saying, 'This is a process, don't get too happy or unhappy at any given moment.'"

Organizations opposed to the reforms are mobilizing as well.

Many of those groups - the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and the Alliance for Retired Americans - say they are now finalizing PR plans and budgets.

But the AFL-CIO has already sent a letter to 46 financial services firms, urging them to "disavow support" for privatization.

Separately, the AARP is spending millions on ads and PR against reform.

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