"What in the world have you been up to, Jimmy?" Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr. (D-Ind.) asked James Roosevelt, a Newport Beach resident and the eldest son of Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Washington.
Jacobs, chairman of the Social Security subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, was leading an investigation into the barrage of direct mail that retirees have received from Roosevelt's National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Jacobs and other members of Congress have charged that Roosevelt's organization has needlessly frightened Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries about the solvency of the programs, which congressmen say are in no danger.
In only four years, Roosevelt's group has enrolled 4.7 million members who flood congressional offices with petitions and post cards. Last year, the organization raised nearly $30 million.
"Your Medicare protection is in jeopardy right now," says one of the mailers sent out to attract new members and money. "Will you spend 45 seconds right now to save Social Security and Medicare?" reads another.
Members of Congress insist that the programs are in no danger because they are tremendously popular with both the public and politicians. If the funds got close to actually running out of money, Congress would certainly rescue them, they say.
Roosevelt, however, insisted that "powerful forces" are opposed to Social Security and Medicare, so it is necessary for his committee to "help seniors protect their own interests."
"At 79, as a very senior citizen, I assure you that I am very capable of understanding and dealing with my own personal and public affairs, and so are other seniors," Roosevelt told the committee. "Believe me, they see through falsehoods and false pretenses with a very sharp eye."
Said Jacobs: "If your organization sent letters promising to protect the people of Indiana from polar bears, you'd be just as successful. I don't know anybody in Indiana who has been bitten by a polar bear, or any member of Congress who would vote to abolish Social Security."