FORD'S WAY U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the 9th District Democrat and prospective U.S. Senate candidate who has been under fire this week for his positions, real or alleged, on Social Security, is at pains to distance himself from various proposals to create private investment accounts from the Social Security fund.

Ford suggests that his positions have been misunderstood or misrepresented and offers as an example of the kind of innovative entitlement reform he does support a bill he introduced last July, entitled “The America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education Act (ASPIRE) Act”

What the act would do is establish a “KIDS” saving account for every newborn child, who would be issued a Social Security number. Accounts in the amount of $500 each would be opened for them automatically, with children below the national median income eligible for a supplementary grant of up to another $500.

The accounts, indexed for inflation, would be paid of the government’s general revenues fund, and provisions would be established allowing for matching grants from private sources.

In the language of the bill, the purpose of the measure would be “to encourage savings, promote financial literacy, and expand opportunities for young adults.” Although hardship exceptions could be applied, the bill calls for repayment of the initial investment at the time the recipient reaches the age of 30. No withdraw could occur, except for legitimate educational expenses, until the age of 18.

The bill would also establish “a range of investment options similar to those offered by the Thrift Savings Plan, including a government securities fund, a fixed income investment fund, a common stock fund, and other funds that may be created by the Board.”

No action was taken on the bill last summer, but the bill, co-sponsored in the Senate by Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum, the Republican Conference chair, will be re-introduced in the current session, said Ford’s spokesperson, Mark Schuermann.

Ford, who, as this week’s cover documents, suffered some direct hits from various members of the blogosphere last week, also got some indirect-- and presumably undeserved-- shrapnel from the revelation that black commentator Armstrong Williams ahd been paid $240,000 in federal funds for shilling for the Bush administraton’s No Child Left Behind program.

Though Ford had no relation to that circumstance, his name ended up being mentioned along some of the estalbished blogs and email networks by virtue of the fact that Williams had from time to time praised the Memphis congressman. As they say, with friends like that --

At the precise moment that members of the Shelby County Commission were locked into a debate Monday on partial privataization of local corrections services (the matter ended up being deferred), Governor Phil Bredesen was holding a press conference in Nashville to announce significant reductions in the scope of TennCare, the state’s medical insurance system.

There was an eerie parallel between the two situatons. In the same half-hour that an audience member in the county building auditorium was pleading that the privatization measure would cost “1500 union jobs, affecting 1500 families,” Bredesen was detailing his plans for cutting 323,00 adult Tennesseans off the TennCare rolls-- a fact which was duly announced to the commission by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton in his somewhat later testimony concerning what he saw as an urgent need for the commission to approve a local privilege tax for legislative consideration.

The two situations had a common bottom line: namely, that revenues for public services are drying up.

During commission debate, a proposal was advanced by member Cleo Kirk that state Senator Roscoe Dixon, now an administrative aide to Wharton, be prevailed upon not to resign his senate seat this Friday, as commission chairman Michael Hooks had previously announced. That was, said Kirk, given Dixon’s expertise and given the fact that legislators with precise knowledge of the county’s proposals this year don’t grow on trees.

Hooks, who wishes to run for the seat when it becomes vacant but doesn’t seek an interim appointment, said he would take the up with Kirk and Wharton.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, another aspirant for Dixon’s District 33 seat, was the beneficiary of a busy round of four fundraisers, held both in Memphis and in Nashville over the weekend. After the beginning of the legislative session this week, fundraising by members of the General Assembly is prohibited-- yet another reason why Hooks doesn’t covet an appointment just now.

Quote of the week: “Get some devastation in the back,” said by Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, according to the Associated Press, to a staff photographer getting a picture of him as he prepared to leave a tsunami-devastated region of Sri Lanka. The photographer had easy pickings.

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