Presidential Hopefuls Square off on Social Security

October 07,2008
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In the latest showdown between the leading Republican presidential contenders, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney addressed an issue of growing concern to seniors and disabled persons across the country: Social Security. The heavyweights traded punches over competing ideas as to how the federal government’s retirement and disability benefits programs can be “reformed” during a recent debate.
“It’s time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix that program where it’s not bankrupt and our children actually know that there’s going to be a retirement program there for them,” Perry said during the CNN-moderated debate. He also accused his rivals -including Romney – of trying to “scare” senior citizens who rely on Social Security benefits.
The assets that support Social Security programs – the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund – are expected to be drained by 2036. Last year, the programs started paying out more money in benefits than collected in payroll taxes. In a May press release, the SSA lobbied for congressional action on the matter, stating “legislative action will be needed soon.”
Like fellow Republican presidential nominee seeker Herman Cain, Perry regularly points to a Social Security alternative initiated in Galveston, Texas, as a model for the country. In 1981, County employees voted to withdraw from Social Security and start a system of individual accounts to provide retirement, survivor and disability benefits. Instead of paying Social Security taxes on income, participants contribute to retirement accounts, which are supplemented by their employers. The funds in the account are then invested in annuities. The money is not indexed for inflation and each employee is not able to control investment decisions.The Washington Post reports that while the Galveston System has yielded nearly double the amount that they might have collected under Social Security for the county’s highest paid workers, the results have been less favorable to middle and lower income individuals.
For his part, Mitt Romney chided Perry for referring to Social Security’s retirement and disability insurance programs as “unconstitutional,” “a monstrous lie” and a “Ponzi scheme,” charges that Perry leveled in a 2010 book and then a Newsweek interview earlier this year.

According to the Washington Post, “[t]hough polls show that Americans are concerned about Social Security’s long-term viability, they remain largely opposed to any of the changes to it proposed in recent years. The idea of creating private accounts proved unpopular when President George W. Bush suggested it in 2005.” In a September CNN poll, nearly seven in 10 Republicans disagreed with the statement that Social Security is a “monstrous lie” and a failure for Americans.
As experienced Social Security disability attorneys representing clients in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we understand how vital Social Security benefits are for retired and disabled persons. While we support reasonable and logical efforts to ensure that the system continues to provide these benefits for future generations, we also believe that adequate benefits should be provided for those who need them now.