Spratt: McCain plan imperils millions on Social Security

John McCain's plan to reform Social Security could "destroy" a program that millions of Americans depend on, U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., said Thursday.

Spratt criticized the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for supporting what he called a radical move toward privatization.

"Democrats are convinced that we can fix this shortfall without radically changing the program, just as we did in 1983," Spratt said in a statement through the S.C. Democratic Party. "Those who claim that Social Security is broke and can't be fixed have a solution that fulfills their prophecy."

Budget panel chairman

After 26 years in Washington, Spratt finds himself in a stronger position to influence the debate on Social Security. He chairs the House Budget Committee and has been mentioned as a potential budget director in a Barack Obama administration.

"He's taken more of a dynamic role within the party," said Rick Whisonant, a political scientist at York Technical College. "He's always been against privatization. It's just that he's never been a position that his voice carried more weight."

This year in particular, Spratt can afford to be more outspoken toward Republicans because he faces less than intimidating re-election prospects. His challenger is Albert Spencer, a physical education teacher from Gaffney who also ran in 2004.

South Carolina Republicans say Spratt and Obama advocate a familiar approach. "The Obama-Spratt plan to shore up Social Security for our seniors is higher taxes," said state party chairman Rob Godfrey. "If we're going to fix the problem, both sides need to come together in a good-faith effort."

McCain: 'Everything' on table

Though he agrees the program needs an overhaul, Spratt has long argued privatization isn't the right way to do it. "This is hardly a solution," he said. "In fact, it could destroy the system under the pretense of saving it."

More than 1.5 million South Carolinians receive Social Security benefits.

McCain has said "everything has to be on the table" in talks about keeping Social Security solvent, including raising Social Security taxes. The Arizona senator endorses the idea of individual private accounts to give Americans more control over their savings.

Social Security reform figures to be one of the top issues facing lawmakers. An estimated 77 million baby boomers soon will begin retiring, putting unprecedented strains on a system created more than 70 years ago.