President Bush's Social Security plan has become the focus of lobbying efforts of AARP, with the organization willing to commit the lion's share of its resources to the cause, The Washington Post reports.
"We're going to do this as long as it takes. We will put just about everything we have into it," said William D. Novelli, CEO of AARP.
Lawmakers concede that the group's cooperation with the plan is vital to its legislative success; with significant financial and lobbying resources, AARP may well have the ability to stop Bush's plan in its tracks. With 35 million members and an $800 million budget, the only larger lobbying force in the country is the Catholic Church.
"It will be very difficult to do anything without AARP's support," said Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Early polling shows that most voters disagree with the idea of creating investment accounts, perhaps due to the influence of AARP and other lobbying groups that have come out against the plan.
Bush has blasted AARP's advertisements and others like it as scare tactics, and Tom Delay (R-Texas), house majority leader, has criticized them as irresponsible, especially based on the fact that a written proposal has not even come out yet.
While the plan's supporters are moving behind the scenes to forge a compromise, it is not likely for the two sides to come together at least until after Bush completes his 60-day campaign for the proposal at the end of April.
Ironically, AARP itself sponsors mutual funds, the very type of investment that the organization criticizes as a vehicle for private investment accounts. Scudder Investments handled $10.5 billion in assets under management in 600,000 accounts for AARP members, with AARP earning about $7 million from fees.
However, Novelli said there is no inherent conflict between his organization's resistance to Bush's plan and its own fund business, since the issue is putting the funds set aside for Social Security in riskier investments like equities.