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Republicans cast AARP as opponent

WASHINGTON -- Republicans attacked the AARP as well as congressional Democrats yesterday as they struggled to build momentum behind President Bush's call for personal investment accounts under Social Security.

The AARP, which claims 35 million members age 50 and over, is ''against a solution that hasn't been written yet," said House majority leader Tom DeLay after a closed-door meeting with the GOP rank and file. He called the group's opposition to personal accounts irresponsible and hypocritical, adding that it sells mutual funds to its own membership.

In response, an AARP spokesman said the organization is ''opposed to the central notion of trying to improve Social Security solvency by taking money out of Social Security."

''Even the administration has acknowledged that taking money out of Social Security does nothing to solve the solvency problem," said the spokesman, David Certner. He also said AARP encouraged its membership to invest in mutual funds ''in addition to Social Security."

DeLay and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert also criticized congressional Democrats, who are virtually united in opposition to Bush's plans. ''The party of no," Hastert called them.

Hastert and DeLay talked with reporters after meeting with lawmakers just back from a week spent sampling public opinion on Social Security. DeLay said the session produced ''not one negative comment by the members."

At the same time, DeLay and Senate majority leader Bill Frist left open the possibility on Tuesday that final action may not be possible this year, and the Texas Republican conceded that opponents of Bush's plans were better organized than supporters.

DeLay and Hastert said Republicans are determined to move ahead with Bush's proposals, and several Republicans said they believe the president's national campaigning is slowly raising public awareness of the issue.

Bush and congressional Republicans have consistently sought to coax Democrats into negotiations on Social Security. Democrats have just as insistently resisted, arguing that since Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, they must first present a comprehensive Social Security proposal of their own.

At stake is an issue of surpassing political significance. Democrats contend Bush and Republicans want to cut benefits to pay for privatizing part of the Depression-era program, and have made clear they intend to try and use the issue at the 2006 elections.

Republicans counter their goal is to shore up a program with shaky finances, but also are leery of being maneuvered into taking a series of politically difficult votes unless the result will be legislation that Bush signs and at least some Democrats support.

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