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Social Security – Where They Stand: The Republicans Weigh In

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Students at the University of Colorado, Boulder, watch Sen. Marco Rubio at the GOP presidential debate. © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Students at the University of Colorado, Boulder, watch Sen. Marco Rubio at the GOP presidential debate. © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Social Security was a hot topic during Wednesday night’s 3rd GOP presidential candidate debate (Oct 27, 2015). Almost everyone voiced an opinion, but they boiled down to more noise than substance.  Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida both argued strongly against any cuts to current benefits.

  • Rubio said: “Everyone up here tonight who’s talking about reforms, I think — and I know for myself when I speak to this — we’re all talking about reforms for future generations. Nothing has to change for current beneficiaries. My mother is on Medicare and Social Security. I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”
  • Huckabee argued this point even more aggressively: “This is a matter not of math, this is a matter of morality. If this country does not keep its promise to seniors, what promise can it hope to be trusted to keep?”

Not entitlement

Both Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likened Social Security and Medicare shortfalls to theft.

“The government has lied to you, and they have stolen from you,” Christie said. “They told you that your Social Security money is in a trust fund. All that’s in that trust fund is a pile of IOUs from money they spent on something else a long time ago. And they stole it from you because now they know they cannot pay these benefits, and Social Security is going to be insolvent in 7 to 8 years.”

Huckabee offered similar analysis: “Yes, we’ve stolen. Yes, we’ve lied to the American people about Social Security and Medicare. But you know what we’re not telling them? It’s their money. This isn’t the government’s money. This is not entitlement; it’s not welfare. This is money that people have confiscated out of their paychecks. Every time they got a paycheck, the government reached in and took something out of it before they ever saw it.”

Personal accounts make a comeback

But once you got past the emotional diatribes, not much of substance was offered in the way of ideas to shore up the shortfalls encumbering Medicare and Social Security.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called for changing the program for younger workers. “I’m 44 years old. It is hard to find someone in my generation that thinks Social Security will be there for us. We can save and preserve and strengthen Social Security by making no changes for seniors, but for younger workers, gradually increasing the retirement age, changing the rate of growth so that it matches inflation, and critically allowing younger workers to keep a portion of our tax payments in a personal account that we own, we control them, we can pass on to our kids.”

Sen. Rand Paul drew laughs when he said, “Whose fault is it that Medicare is broken, out of money? That Social Security is broken, out of money? I say, look, it’s not Republicans’ fault, it’s not Democrats’ fault. It’s your grandparents’ fault for having too many damn kids. After the war, we had all of these kids — baby boomers. Now we’re having smaller families. We used to have 16 workers for 1 retiree. Now you have 3 workers for 1 retiree. It’s not working. I have a bill to fix Medicare. I have a bill to fix Social Security. For both of them, you have to gradually raise the age. Nobody wants to do it, but if you’re not willing to gradually raise the age, you’re not serious about fixing either one of them.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, “The simple way to (reform Social Security) is to make sure that the wealthiest don’t receive the same benefits as people who are lower-income. … And make sure you enhance savings in the private market. I have a small business that I set up. It took an arm and a leg to be able to set up a 401(k) because of all the federal mandates and federal laws. It was too expensive. We need to incent private savings and make sure that Social Security is protected for those that have it.”

Christie seconded the idea of raising the retirement age and alluded to a plan to lower benefits for high earners. “What we know is we’re living longer. That’s a blessing … so we have to increase the retirement age to reflect that blessing. We need to make sure that people understand, as Jeb said before, that if you’ve done extraordinarily well in this country, do you want them to take more out of your taxes now and think they’re gonna give it back to you later? Or would you rather take less later on?”

What would you do about Social Security and Medicare’s fiscal problems? And what would you like to hear the candidates say about the issue?

Editor’s Note:  After Fifty Living thanks Jennie L. Phipps and for providing this article.

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