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The end of Social Security as we know it?

Bet on this: no matter who wins the election, Social Security will be on the table in 1997.

Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska is agitated. Surrounded by lobbyists at a private strategy session on Social Security, he fumes, "I don't know what the president thinks, but I know it's going to take presidential leadership."

You might think Kerrey, a prominent Democrat, would want a re-elected President Clinton to go to the mat to protect Social Security, the crown jewel of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. But in fact, Kerrey is the chief sponsor of legislation that would begin to "privatize" Social Security, and he wants Clinton's support. Asked whether he's worried about progressive Democrats mobilizing to defend Social Security, Kerrey bristles, "I'll kick the shit out of any liberal who tries that."

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So far, Kerrey is one of only a handful of politicians who have ventured out into the open on the subject. Neither Clinton nor Bob Dole has chosen to make an issue of Social Security, long considered an untouchable "third rail" of American politics because of its broad popularity. But behind the scenes, a coalition of Wall Street money managers, conservative ideologues, and a growing number of heretical Democrats like Kerrey is drawing up plans to dismantle the Social Security safety net in favor of a private system of individual retirement accounts.

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