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Business Groups Align to Support Bush’s Social Security Reform

As President Bush officially wades into his second term today, corporate interests are forming a coalition to help promote his top, and possibly most challenging, domestic priority: an overhaul of Social Security.

The Business Roundtable is reviving the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America’s Social Security, a group set to spend millions convincing the American public that the federal retirement program is in crisis and needs reform.

Representatives of some member groups met Tuesday for the first time to discuss the scope and strategy of the effort and possible contributors, according to BRT President John Castellani.

“We’ll be working regularly to get that defined so we can get it up and rolling very quickly,” he said.

The revival of CoMPASS should come as a rare bit of good news to Bush, whose planned Social Security overhaul has been battered in recent weeks by Congressional Democrats, and questioned by some key Republicans, even before its details have been released.

The coalition will complement the efforts of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, itself a member of CoMPASS and the lead business-backed group lobbying in Washington for Bush’s plan.

CoMPASS will focus its efforts outside the Beltway.

Castellani said the group is still researching which Congressional districts to target but speculated costs would be “considerably larger” than in 2002, when CoMPASS funded a $6 million broadcast and mailing blitz in 20 markets.

While the group’s board of directors is not yet fully formed, Castellani said several major business associations have joined, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Restaurant Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

Castellani said like the president, he is hopeful reform can be accomplished this year.

“If everything goes well, it’s going to be a 2005 effort,” Castellani said. “If it goes like things typically go in Washington, it’s going to be a 2005-2006 effort. Our effort will be evolving as we go along.”

CoMPASS members on Tuesday divided into working groups to tackle how to get started. Castellani said the full coalition would reconvene within 10 days to discuss, among other things, a reasonable budget for the operation.