As we enter the full-blown political silly season, it's hard to know where the politicians stand on the one topic that most older people can agree on -- Social Security. For almost everybody living in retirement or getting close to making their retirement planning a reality, Social Security is an important piece.
But nailing down the candidates on how each one of them would handle Social Security isn't easy. Except for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the race in part because of negative response to his claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, no candidate has forcefully outlined a plan to make Social Security solvent.
Here's what they have said over the past few months:
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul in May of last year said that Social Security was technically unconstitutional because there is no "authority in the constitution for it." Since then, he has suggested that younger workers be allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes and retirement benefits, while maintaining the plan for older workers. "My plan explicitly protects the elderly and the sick in the transition," he says.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a statement, "We must keep the promises made to our current retirees: Their Social Security and Medicare benefits should not be affected." But when Romney addressed the Tea Party last November, he said he would “gradually raise the retirement age to reflect increases in longevity and slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in November said that he would give Americans the option to invest in personal savings accounts instead of Social Security. ""Maybe it's not that Social Security is out of money; the politicians are out of ideas," he said.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, while campaigning in New Hampshire a few days before the primary, called for immediate cuts to Social Security benefits. "We can't wait 10 years," even though "everybody wants to," Santorum said.
President Barack Obama has been very vague about his plans for Social Security, but last year he discussed with Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio possible reductions in benefits as part of the debt-reduction deal. That deal never went anywhere. In last night's State of the Union address, he called for reforms to Social Security but didn't elaborate.