The Chris Murphy campaign released a new ad Thursday morning. But by the time the candidate was addressing a group of seniors in Hartford that afternoon, a new talking point had surfaced and the message had changed: Linda McMahon would be disastrous for Social Security.
Murphy, the Democratic candidate for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, is locked in a tight race with Republican McMahon.
On Thursday the campaign latched on to an article posted on the Huffington Post Wednesday night in which the former wrestling CEO comments on the future of the Social Security program at a conservative event about five months ago.
Speaking before a group of Tea Party supporters in April, McMahon said she would consider introducing a “sunset provision” for entitlement programs such as Social Security.
Murphy raised the comments when he addressed a group of seniors at the North End Senior Center after having lunch with them.
“Linda McMahon said that she thinks that programs like Social Security should be phased out and there should be a sunset provision. She even gave a number she said that she thinks in 10 years or 15 years we should phase out Social Security. What a disaster. What a disaster for Connecticut seniors,” Murphy said.
He went on to tell the seniors that that is the kind of agenda a wealthy candidate like McMahon would propose, considering she is unlikely to ever need to rely on Social Security.
“Linda McMahon wants to privatize Medicare and now we learn today that she wants to phase out Social Security. That’s a radical agenda for this state,” he said.
But the McMahon campaign says Murphy’s interpretation of their candidates’ position is more fiction than fact.
“Linda McMahon is committed to reforming entitlements without breaking the promises we’ve made to our seniors,” Todd Abrajano, McMahon‘s spokesman, said. “She will never vote for a budget that cuts Social Security for seniors.
All she meant by using the word “sunset provision” was there needs to be checkpoints in the legislation to make sure it’s still sustainable for future generations, Abrajano said.
During her 2010 campaign, McMahon refused to talk about entitlement spending. She told CTNewsjunkie in August 2010 that “I really do think we’re going to have strengthen all of our entitlement programs, but that’s not really a discussion for the campaign trail.”
It wasn’t until U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan was selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate that McMahon broke her silence on entitlements.
“Linda McMahon will never support a budget that cuts Medicare,” Corry Bliss, McMahon’s campaign manager, said in a statement.
At that press conference in March where she unveiled her economic plan, she was vague about whether a one percent spending reduction would include cuts to entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.
“Clearly we’re going to have to address entitlements because we know they‘re not sustainable” McMahon said back in March. “But at this particular point my focus and emphasis today is to talk about jobs and my plan to spur the economy.”
The McMahon campaign will also be re-airing a radio ad which accuses Murphy of voting to cut Medicare by passing the Affordable Care Act.
The spending reductions in the Affordable Care Act aimed at the Medicare program were reductions in payments to insurance companies providing Medicare Advantage plans, and hospitals. None of the reductions target benefits of those use the program. It’s a claim that has been debunked by nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and several news organizations.
Based on a full transcript posted on the Huffington Post, McMahon told the Tea Party group that Medicare and Social Security are clearly in trouble. She says there are a number of ways to potentially address that problem but said it should be addressed in a bipartisan manner.
And I do believe that, that there are ways to look at, you know, what we’re trying to do when we put Social Security in place? We didn’t go back and review it. 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. But there are, there certainly are (inaudible) securities, banks, backed by the federal government.
However, Medicare is again going to go bankrupt if we don’t change it. There’ve been recommendations of block grants, of our seniors looking at choosing what kinds of plans that they want. But 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.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Murphy defended his comments. A sunset provision effectively ends a program and requires Congress to reauthorize it to keep it going. He said the disastrous proposal is more radical than most anything the Tea Party movement has proposed in Washington D.C.
“That’s a radical idea, to sunset Social Security and let it expire. I was shocked when I read that proposal and it seems by the context of it, she knew exactly what she was talking about. And listen she was talking to a Tea Party group,” he said.
Out of context or not, Murphy’s message seemed to resonate with the seniors who hear it Thursday. There was audible grumbling from the crowd as he spoke of McMahon’s comments.
Harry Hartie, who said he goes by “The Handsome One,” said he is a Republican but is concerned about the direction his party is heading in on social programs among other things.
“It’s deeply concerning. That affects me,” he said of Social Security. “She’s following the scope of the party, otherwise she would be saying something to John Boehner and Mitt Romney, who are saying the wrong thing.”
Murphy said there are ways to keep Social Security solvent without sunsetting it, like increasing the amount of money it captures. He said Congress should look at asking the very wealthy to pay a little more into the program.
But Murphy’s not the only one who got his message out to seniors Thursday. Before he arrived his opponent’s ad was running as seniors were watching “The Price Is Right.”
Editor’s note: Reporters received 7 minutes with Murphy before he was whisked away by his handlers. Until the end of the campaign we will be reporting the time each candidate gives reporters before getting shut down by their campaigns.