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Last Wednesday’s debate between Republican presidential hopefuls highlighted the sharp ideological divide between Texas governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as the two clashed over Social Security.
During the debate at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library, Perry called Social Security an unsustainable “Ponzi scheme” and claimed that it gave young workers a false sense of security.
This echoes the arguments in his 2010 book Fed Up! in which he claimed that Social Security was unconstitutional and should be replaced with “retirement safety net that is no longer set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme, but rather will allow individuals to own and control their own retirement.” In recent weeks, Perry has also advocated transferring responsibility for Social Security to the states.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, came out in defense of Social Security, saying that its problems can be fixed. In particular, he advocates raising the retirement age and eliminating benefits for wealthy individuals. Perry’s decision to attack Social Security is a very risky move.
It has been an established part of the American political landscape since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, and politicians have traditionally been wary of attacking it because of its bipartisan support.
Writing to his brother in 1954, Republican president Dwight Eisenhower even went so far as to say that “should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”
However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Social Security is in danger. By 2023, forecasts predict that the income of the Social Security program will no longer be sufficient to meet its expenditures.
Predicted demographic shifts suggest that, by 2035, there will be less than three income earners supporting each retiree who receives Social Security benefits. Unless Congress acts, the Social Security Trust Fund could be drained by 2036.
Perry is almost certainly hoping that his strident criticism of Social Security will resonate with grassroots members who are eager to roll back the power of the federal government. He also seems to believe that the GOP needs to field a candidate who is diametrically opposed to President Obama.
“The point is we need to have a nominee that doesn’t blur the lines between themselves and the current resident of the White House,” Perry told an audience in Orange County, California on Thursday. If Perry continues down this road, he certainly won’t have to worry about being confused with Obama.
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