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Is Bush wrong? Ask Jeb, Gore says

Al Gore's campaign is trying to pit brother against brother in the debate over Social Security, circulating a column in which Florida Gov. Jeb Bush warns against letting all of the state's pension funds ride on the stock market.

Bush wrote in the April 18 Tallahassee Democrat of his concern that state workers' retirement money was at risk because stock market losses had caused the Florida Retirement Fund to lose about $8-billion in a week _ $4-billion in one day.

The Florida governor argued it would be prudent to take the pension surplus "and place it in a reserve that is not affected by changes in the market" in order to "cushion future volatility" and assure long-term stability in the retirement program.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane seized on the column as evidence of the folly of brother George W. Bush's latest proposal. Bush, the Texas governor and presumed GOP presidential nominee, wants to let Americans divert some of their Social Security payroll taxes and invest them in stocks.

Lehane said Jeb Bush's view of state investments parallels the Democratic vice president's argument that letting Social Security funds ride the stock market puts the program's guaranteed benefits at risk.

"Here is the Republican governor of a state with a lot of seniors raising concerns about the policy and he happens to be George W. Bush's brother," Lehane said.

Jeb Bush spokesman Justin Sayfie said his boss, in fact, has no concern about state investments in the market. "Here in Florida, we have a pension fund that, because it's invested in the market, now has a surplus and the 800,000 people in the system are going to reap the benefits."

George W. Bush, appearing on Fox News, dismissed his Democratic rival's argument as scare tactics.

"I want the seniors to hear this about my plan: If you're on Social Security, nothing will change. I care about seniors, and I care about their security. And I'm not going to let any politician scare them to thinking otherwise," Bush said.

He said Gore's own proposal _ using federal budget surpluses and interest savings from debt repayment to pump up the Social Security Trust Fund _ won't be enough to shore up the program for the baby boom's retirement and beyond.

"If the Al Gore plan were to go through, there'd be a huge tax increase or a major reduction in benefits. The only guarantee is that if we don't think differently by the year 2037, the system is going to be broke," Bush said.

RUNNING MATE ADVICE: George W. Bush sent letters to 450 Republican leaders on Thursday seeking advice in his hunt for a running mate. He also suggested in an interview that he would accept someone who favors abortion rights _ within limits.

Separately, Bush was asked by Fox News TV if he would consider teaming up with someone who, unlike him, favors abortion rights.

"I'll consider Tom Ridge. He is a friend of mine," Bush said.

Ridge supports Pennsylvania's strict legislation on abortion. The law calls for a 24-hour waiting period, parental notification when minors are involved and a ban on abortion after the 24th week.