The Washington Post

Does Rick Perry have a Social Security problem?

ABC News reports on Karl Rove’s appearance Wednesday on “Good Morning America”:

[Rick] Perry’s campaign has not backed away from what Perry wrote in his book “Fed Up” — that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” a “failure,” “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” and one of many New Deal programs that have “never died, and like a bad disease, they have spread.”

But Rove pulled no punches today, calling that stance “inadequate.”

“They are going to have to find a way to deal with these things,” Rove said.

“They’re toxic in a general election environment, and they are also toxic in a Republican primary. And if you say Social Security is a failure and ought to be replaced by a state-level program, then people are going to say, ‘What do you mean by that?,’ and make a judgment based on your answer to it,” he said.

Well, this is one of the problems presented by Perry’s book and the absence of specific policy proposals to date. His spokesman has said varying things about the book but has most recently confirmed that Perry stands behind what he wrote.

Perry has a couple of options here. He can disclaim his prior suggestion to send Social Security to the states, but stick by his statement that Social Security is not sustainable. That would require presenting something more detailed than his campaign line that we should all have a ”conversation” about Social Security. Another approach would be to stick with his call for a radical reworking or end to federal retirement benefits. That too would require a full plan and plenty of assurance that he’s not going to relegate grandma to eating cat food in her old age. Perry’s campaign has not yet responded to my request for comment.

There is plenty of room for smart talk on Social Security. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sets forth some solid suggestions in his Roadmap for America. Perry will need to show he has a serious plan as well — or maybe even to adopt Ryan’s ideas in total.

Rove is right about one thing: Even for Republicans, the idea of ending Social Security is going to be a tough sell.


A Perry spokesman e-mails me: “We realize entitlement reform is a politically touchy subject, but it must be discussed if America is serious about fiscal responsibility and economic growth. At the rate they are going, many federal entitlement programs will be unsustainable, unaffordable and unavailable for future generations. Governor Perry would protect Social Security benefits for those at or near retirement and also recognizes we must discuss changes to make Social Security and other retirement benefits financially sound and viable going forward.”

That doesn’t sound like he’s ready to propose anything specific. We’ll have to see if that will be sufficient to allay concerns he is out to wreck Social Security.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.


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