Linda McMahon hasn’t revealed the specifics of her plan to shore up Social Security, but on the evening of the final U.S. Senate debate she said she has remained mum to keep the press from playing politics with her ideas.
Republican McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is in a close race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy for the U.S. Senate, where they each hope to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman. Thursday’s debate, the final one before the Nov. 6 election, took place at the Hartford Hilton and was sponsored by the Connecticut Broadcaster’s Association.
Throughout the campaign Murphy has asserted that McMahon would “sunset” the Social Security program, basing the allegation on an April event when she told a group of conservatives she would consider such a provision.
Though McMahon has accused Murphy of taking her comments out of context, she has declined to get into the specifics of how she might keep the entitlement program solvent. During Thursday’s debate she offered an explanation for her reluctance.
“I’ve not talked about specifics when I’ve been on the campaign trail because they get demagogued and you have no opportunity at all when you go in and put the issues on the table to discuss them,” McMahon said, adding that it’s necessary to reform the program and there are many ways to do it.
McMahon insisted she wouldn’t consider doing anything that would reduce the benefits seniors are getting under the program today.
After the debate, McMahon clarified to reporters that it is mostly they, and not her opponent, whom she considers responsible for “demagoguing” ideas for Social Security.
“Thanks to all of you folks in the media, you’re the ones who primarily do it and bash any of the suggestions that might be made to improve the Social Security, Medicare,” she said.
During the debate, Murphy referred back to McMahon’s comments about sunsetting the program, saying that for four straight debates she’s refused to offer up other options.
“We have to take the few comments that she’s made on the record, like she did to this Tea Party group when she said she would support sunsetting it, as her position because other than that, you just can’t get from her her priorities,” Murphy said.
Following the debate, Murphy said he took McMahon’s “demagogue” comments to be an admission that she won’t tell people where she stands on issues because it might cost her votes.
“She said that she doesn’t give her position on Social Security because she might lose votes, if she gives her position. You have an obligation as a candidate to tell people where you stand even if that wins you some votes and loses you other votes,” he said.
For his part, Murphy said he supports raising the cap on the payroll tax as a way to keep Social Security solvent.
“I think that solves the problem. You know, Social Security has 20 years before it starts taking in less money than it sends out. So if you adjust the cap today, you can solve the issue 20 years from now,” he said.
Murphy said he did not immediately know how high the payroll cap would have to be raised to accomplish that. Currently the cap is at $110,100 a year, meaning anyone who makes more than that pays the same rate.
Most of the hour-long debate covered the same territory and issues the candidates have been squabbling over during the previous three debates and through countless political ads. Time was spent discussing their positions women’s access to healthcare and reproductive rights. The candidates also sparred over who had the best plan to create jobs and economic growth.
But in a race that’s been marked by the exchange of bitter attacks through TV commercials, the debate’s biggest departure from the campaigns’ narratives may have come when both candidates were asked to say something nice about their opponent.
“Given the nasty nature of the advertising and the debates and the campaign press releases, this is an appropriate question… Would you please say something nice about your opponent?” panelist and WTNH reporter Mark Davis asked, getting a laugh out of the mostly reserved audience.
In response, Murphy said McMahon was clearly a very driven woman.
“She’s someone when she sets her mind to something, has shown she can accomplish that. I also note that she has over the last several years made some substantial investments in some Connecticut charities,” Murphy said.
Meanwhile, McMahon chose to praise Murphy’s children.
“Probably the nicest thing I can say about Congressman Murphy are his two little boys. They are so cute,” she said.
The debate format allowed both candidates an additional minute to respond to the nice thing their opponent said about them. Murphy used his to note that McMahon complimented his sons, not him.
Steve Kotchko of the Connecticut Radio Network said McMahon also had another minute to “say warm fuzzy things” about Murphy.
“Don’t push it too far,” she joked.
After the debate McMahon said Murphy must be doing something right, having raised the two little boys. Murphy said he was still waiting for her to say something nice about him.
“She said something nice about my kids, that doesn’t count,” he said.
Though the line of questioning provided some lighthearted moments in an otherwise bitter race, don’t expect the attack ads to let up before November. Both candidates were asked if they were ever embarrassed by the content of their ads. Both stood by their commercials.