McMahon statements make Social Security, Medicare hot campaign issues

In a race that is still anyone's game, Connecticut Democrats believe they smell blood in the water against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon after a video was released last week where she suggests "sunset provisions" could be looked at for Social Security.

Ms. McMahon, a Greenwich resident, is locked in a tight race with U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-5th District) for the seat of retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), with polls showing her either narrowly ahead or narrowly behind, something that has surprised many political observers since Mr. Murphy was expected to be a heavy favorite.

Because of that the Murphy campaign last week pounced on the video of Ms. McMahon speaking before a Tea Party Patriots forum in Waterford in April, which also included all the other Republicans running for the seat, where she spoke about Social Security's sustainability.

In the video, Ms. McMahon said the current system is not sustainable and that bipartisan solutions need to be looked at. She mentions raising the retirement age or means testing as possible solutions, but it's her remarks about a potential sunset provision that has raised the most eyebrows.

Ms. McMahon suggests there should have been a review of Social Security to examine it after it was put in place and then states, "In other words, I believe in sunset provisions when we pass this kind of legislation, so that you take a look at it 10, 15 years down the road to make sure that it's still going to fund itself. Social Security will run out of money if we continue to do what we're doing, if we rob the trust fund, if we think that there's any money there, there's not."

She followed up by saying, "I can tell you one thing I would not do, I would not vote on any rule or law that would take away the benefits that our seniors have today or those that are approaching retirement age. Because they're there, they're counting on those benefits. We have to find another way to pay for it other than impacting our seniors today, and I would not vote for anything that would do that."

The Murphy campaign quickly made this a centerpiece of its campaign, claiming Ms. McMahon supported "extreme right-wing Republican policies to dismantle and end the crucial programs for Connecticut seniors" and tied it into a controversial plan by Republican vice presidential nominee U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan to phase out current Medicare programs and replace them with a voucher system, as he traveled to Connecticut, including to Greenwich, for a series of private fund-raisers last weekend.

Ms. McMahon did not attend any of those fund-raisers, despite being in Greenwich on the same day Mr. Ryan was. Mr. Ryan visited the home of state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District), and several attendees of the annual town Republican clambake attended both events on Sunday, but Ms. McMahon appeared only at the clambake.

On a Friday conference call with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd District) and Elizabeth Esty, a congressional candidate running for the seat he's vacating for his Senate run, Mr. Murphy said the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Mr. Ryan would "fix Medicare on the backs of Connecticut's seniors" and referred to the "Romney, Ryan, McMahon Medicare privatization plan," which he claimed would force seniors to pay $6,000 more a year in out-of-pocket expenses.

"Linda McMahon may be able to afford $6,000 a year more for Medicare, but most seniors in Connecticut can't," Mr. Murphy said and added that her "plans for Social Security and Medicare are further to the right than Paul Ryan's plan."

"Sunsetting is a nice way of saying 'ending,'" Mr. Murphy said. "Linda McMahon would propose to end Social Security in 10 to 15 years, a plan that is far more radical than anything Paul Ryan has proposed. Paul Ryan's plan would privatize Medicare for individuals that today are 55 and younger. Linda McMahon proposes to privatize Medicare for individuals 65 and younger."

McMahon campaign spokesman Todd Abrajano said Mr. Murphy "continues to take her statements completely out of context."

"What Linda's true position is is that Congress should take a look every 10 to 15 years at entitlement programs to ensure their sustainability and their solvency to make sure they are funded for future generations," Mr. Abrajano said. "At no point has Linda ever supported the ending or phasing out of Social Security. It's surprising that Congressman Murphy continues to completely misrepresent Linda's position."

In last Friday's conference call, Mr. Murphy also pointed to an interview Ms. McMahon gave to WFSB Channel 3 out of Hartford last week, in which he said she "said very clearly she would support a voucher Medicare system if she was elected to the United States Senate."

"Linda McMahon would be a strong, vocal proponent of privatizing Medicare and ending Social Security in the next 10 to 15 years," Mr. Murphy said. "Those are radical plans this state can't afford."

However, in the clip broadcast by WFSB, there are no direct quotes from Ms. McMahon where she says she supports privatizing Medicare, just the reporter saying she did. In the news report, Ms. McMahon did say on camera, "I am not looking to end Medicare or Social Security by any stretch of the imagination."

The station told The Bulletin's sister paper The Greenwich Post on Monday that in the full interview, Ms. McMahon said she would be "open to anything when it came to Medicare." The clip was removed from the Web after the McMahon campaign complained about the characterization of her statements, but the station said it has not issued an apology despite campaign claims that it had.

Mr. Abrajano said the broadcast clip "did not reflect Linda's position" and didn't know why the reporter portrayed it that way.

Mr. Abrajano stressed to The Post that Ms. McMahon felt all issues should be on the table when it came to discussing Medicare, but she did not personally support either privatization or vouchers.

"She certainly understands, like I think anyone with common sense does, that the current system is unsustainable and if it continues like this it won't be funded for future generations," Mr. Abrajano said. "Linda's position is that both sides need to sit down and bring with them all their ideas. The Democrats can bring their ideas. The Republicans can bring their ideas, and nothing is off the table, so there can be a truly bipartisan solution with compromise. That doesn't mean she supports all the ideas out there, and she is not supportive of privatization or vouchers."

The McMahon camp did fire back at Mr. Murphy on Friday, issuing a news release claiming he voted to cut $716 billion from Medicare and quoting an interview he gave to the New Haven Register this summer in which he said there would have to be "sacrifices" by beneficiaries.

The "$716 billion in Medicare cuts" claim has also been used as an attack on President Barack Obama by Republicans but has largely been debunked since that money, which is part of the Affordable Health Care Act, comes from reducing Medicare payments to private insurance companies and hospitals and does not affect beneficiaries. During the conference call, Mr. Murphy told The Post he believed there should be an increase in the cap on payments made into Social Security.

"The very wealthy amongst us should pay their fair share," Mr. Murphy said. "That will require some sacrifice on behalf of the beneficiaries who can afford to pay a little bit more."

On Medicare, Eli Zupnick, a campaign spokesman, said Mr. Murphy, "... believes we need to preserve and protect this critical program and make sure the benefits we promised are there for our seniors and the next generation."

Mr. Zupnick said Mr. Murphy would be "open to additional sacrifices from millionaires and billionaires in the form of means testing, but only if it did not impact middle class seniors or families or undermine the broad-based support for the program."