SAGINAW, Mich. — Eric Friedman walked into a hornet’s nest. The district director for Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp was taken aback by the wrath of angry constituents. Calling President Bush’s claim that Social Security is bankrupt “a lie,” they demanded that Camp work to raise the cap on payroll taxes so upper-income people pay their fair share into the Social Security fund.

The emotional and at times loud forum brought dozens of voters from four counties together at a suburban library here to discuss proposed changes to the nation’s retirement safety net that has kept million of seniors from a life of poverty.

Many accused the Bush administration of marketing a Social Security “crisis” like he sold the threat of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Service Employees Local 517M member Beccy Bank recalled how her grandmother spent the last year of her life “living on a diet of pickles,” and told Friedman to “stop funding Haliburton” and spend the money ensuring the Social Security trust fund is solvent.

She said it was a crime that Bush is promoting tax breaks for the rich while the poor are suffering.

Friedman repeatedly assured the crowd that Social Security was just entering the discussion phase, and that legislation is at least a year away.

In a poll of those in attendance, barely half thought there was a problem with Social Security. Nobody believed there was a “severe” problem, and everyone opposed private investment accounts.

Retiree Mohsen Younes said his son’s family had put $8,000 of their savings into a Roth IRA three years ago, after their broker assured them “they wouldn’t lose a penny.” Today that IRA is worth $2,000, said Younes. Social Security is much better than playing with stocks, he told Friedman.

“My children have worked hard all their lives and I worry that they will have nothing when they get my age.”

Mark Kraych, of the Wellstone Civic Dialogue Project, disputed Friedman’s claim that Social Security was the costliest item in the federal budget. “We have a war budget not a social budget,” Kraych said as others nodded in agreement.

“We are spending our money in the wrong place and not on the people who need it the most.”

Others suggested “means testing,” saying that millionaires who don’t need Social Security take it anyway.

The message was crystal clear — no privatization and make the wealthy pay! Congressman Dave Camp has heard from his constituents.