The Congressional District 17 race flap over Social Security continued Monday with U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, holding a teleconference and Republican candidate Bill Flores once again denying support for raising the retirement age.
Both men are competing in the Nov. 2 election for the CD-17 seat, a district that includes Johnson County.
The latest issue, in a rough and tumble campaign of charges and countercharges, focuses on Flores’ statement — then retraction — of openness to raising the retirement age for Social Security to 70.
Considering growing concerns about the federal deficit, the debate over Social Security continues to be a big issue in Washington. According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security was the primary source of income for 64 percent of retirees who received benefits in 2008. A third relied on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income.
In an Oct. 12 interview for WFAA’s “News 8’s Inside Politics,” both candidates agreed that Social Security and Medicare need reform.
They, at first blush, disagreed on a proposal bandied by several Republicans and Democrats to raise the retirement age to 70. Right now, full benefits kick in between 65 and 67, but retirees can start collecting benefits as early as 62.
Edwards voiced opposition. Flores, initially, at least, voiced at least some modicum of support.
“I’d have to look at what the actual economics are,” Flores told the interviewer. “I’m not philosophically opposed to raising the retirement age.”
Flores, according to WFAA.com, later called the station and asked that it not air the comment because he had a “headache” and “misspoke.”
Flores, on Friday, reversed his on-air statement.
“Voters should be assured that I absolutely do not support raising the retirement age for Social Security,” Flores said.
Edwards said Monday that he’s not buying the headache line.
“I’ve always strongly opposed” raising the retirement age, Edwards said. “With Flores, it depends on what day of the week you ask him.
“Flores said he’s always opposed the Social Security retirement age being raised. We have a lot of clips and news articles. We’ve not found one where he said he opposed it even once, much less consistently.”
Edwards also said Flores would support the privatization of Social Security, something Edwards said he opposes. On Monday, Edwards also announced endorsements received from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and the Alliance of Retired Americans, both of whom applauded Edwards’ opposition to privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
Edwards cited a Jan. 20 news story in the The Eagle of Bryan-College Station. When asked in that article whether people should be allowed to invest their Social Security contributions through a privatization of the system, Flores said yes.
“The problem with Social Security today is it’s a giant inter-generational transfer of wealth from people that are just being born today and those that haven’t been born yet that are paying for the obligations of those that are approaching retirement age,” Flores told The Eagle. “We’ve got to fix the inter-generational transfer of wealth. If we don’t, we’re gonna go bankrupt with the Social Security debt that is growing out of control.”
Edwards called privatizing Social Security a “terrible idea” that would take $2 trillion out of the trust fund over the next 10 years and, “put a lot of people in the 60s in our district and across the country at risk.”
Medicare and Social Security trustees have estimated that the Social Security Trust Fund is viable until 2037, though that estimate is four years earlier than their previous examination. Privatization, Edwards argues, could move up that insolvency date further and faster. Estimates for Medicare insolvency are much sooner, up to 2017. In 2008, Medicare operated at a deficit for the first time, paying out more in benefits than it generated from taxes and other revenue.
The issue of Social Security was further heightened by the announcement last week that there would be no cost-of-living increase this year for Social Security recipients for a second consecutive year. Last year, Edwards co-sponsored legislation that provided a one-time $250 payment to 54 million seniors to help cover the cost-of-living lapse.
Flores’ campaign on Monday tried to firm up its candidate’s position.
“Bill Flores does not support raising the retirement age,” said Matt Mackowiak, Flores’ campaign manager. “The only candidate in this race who has ever voted to raise taxes on seniors and who has robbed the Social Security trust fund to pay for big government is Chet Edwards.
“Additionally, Chet Edwards won’t even repeal the $500 billion in Medicare cuts that will hurt more than 500,000 Texas seniors.”