On a Friday conference call with roughly 3,300 Connecticut AARP members, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chris Murphy tried to dispel some of the hand wringing over the solvency of the Social Security program.
Murphy, a three-term congressman, is in close race with Republican and former wrestling CEO Linda McMahon for retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat.
Both faced similar questions from the some of the state’s senior citizens. McMahon participated in a conference call on Thursday morning. Neither town hall-style discussion revealed much the candidates hadn’t already stated regarding the solvency of Social Security and Medicare.
Murphy supports raising the cap on the payroll tax as a way to keep Social Security solvent. Currently the cap is at $110,100 a year, meaning anyone who makes more than that pays the same rate.
McMahon, on the other hand, has declined to specify what ideas she might consider, saying her ideas would be “demonized” before she ever got a chance to discuss them with other legislators. But raising the cap would be one of the things she would keep on the table.
But on Friday morning’s call, Murphy tried to downplay some of the fears that the program will soon go bankrupt, leaving four out of 10 seniors living in poverty.
“I think it’s important to step back and recognize the doomsday talk about Social Security’s immediate demise is overblown,” he said. “Social Security has 20 years before it starts taking in less money than it sends out.”
Murphy said that doesn’t mean the problem shouldn’t be addressed immediately. Every year that passes without efforts to shore up the program will make it harder to keep solvent in the future.
He reiterated his call for raising the payroll cap.
“It doesn’t make sense that somebody that’s making $20 million a year is paying is paying a astronomically lower percentage of their income for Social Security taxes than somebody making $50,000 a year and that’s the way you can solve the program,” he said.
Seniors should also receive “reasonable” annual adjustments in their benefits, Murphy said. Social Security adjustments over the last several years haven’t reflected the reality that the cost of living for seniors has been rising, he said.
As for Medicare, Murphy said he rejected Republican vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to create a voucher system. Ryan’s plan wouldn’t go into effect until the day people who are currently 55 enter Medicare.
Murphy said McMahon has stated she would be willing to consider a more aggressive version of the privatization plan, which could impact seniors going on Medicare as soon as next year.
During her Thursday call, McMahon said she wouldn’t consider privatization plans because she didn’t think “that’s the way we should go.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed 52 percent of voters believe Murphy will do a better job on Social Security and Medicare, while 39 percent felt McMahon would do a better job on those two issues. However, the same poll found that 48 percent of voters believe McMahon has better ideas about creating jobs, while 38 percent of voters believe Murphy has better ideas.
During the call Murphy urged seniors to research the policies of the two candidates, saying it’s impossible to get to know someone through 30-second TV spots. It was clear some of the callers on the line were sick of those ads.
Cheryl from Hamden said she’s never met either candidate and has been trying to rely on the press to enable her to cast an informed vote.
“I have truly grown weary of the negative and bad-mouthing television advertisements to the point of not listening anymore. Listening to those would not lead me to vote for either of you. I just want them to stop,” she said.
Murphy told her if she watches TV tonight she would see two fairly positive ads from his campaign.