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Pinellas congressional candidates battle over Social Security, Obamacare

In Pinellas County's hotly contested congressional race, 27 percent of the registered voters — more than one in four — are older than 65.

Maybe that's the reason Social Security and health care keep coming up in unending television commercials during this campaign.

You can expect to see plenty more of those commercials until the March 11 special election, because this race has gotten national attention, and outside groups not controlled by the candidates are pouring millions into it.

Democrat Alex Sink, Republican David Jolly and Libertarian Lucas Overby are running in the 13th Congressional District, which extends from south Pinellas to Dunedin, with portions of downtown and southern St. Petersburg cut out.

All want to succeed longtime Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who spent nearly 43 years in Congress and died in October at age 82.

Sink has been attacking Jolly on Social Security and so has the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. On the other hand, Jolly has been attacking Sink on the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare."

Sink, 65, was the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor, and also served as the state's elected chief financial officer. She visited a St. Petersburg nursing home last month and told residents:

"My opponent, you just need to know, is a lobbyist. And he's been lobbying for clients that advocate privatizing Social Security and advocate putting Medicare on a voucher system. And I say that is wrong."

Jolly was general counsel to Young, and also has worked in Washington as a lobbyist, lawyer and consultant. He said Sink is flat wrong about him.

He said it's true that Social Security has long-term financial problems and "anybody that has an intellectually honest conversation knows we have to have long-term entitlement reform in order to balance the budget."

But he stressed that any fixes to the program must be done without affecting people who are vested in the system. Senior citizens have been promised Social Security — and for that matter so have people his age, he said. He is 41. "I've said from the beginning of this campaign we have to protect Social Security and Medicare for current and future beneficiaries, period," he said through a spokeswoman.

For younger people (basically those in the workplace less than 10 years), Jolly said it's only logical that some financial changes need to be made. He'd be willing to at least discuss all reasonable ideas for reform, whether it's private investment accounts for individuals or a simple safety net concept.

Sink criticized this approach, saying during a recent debate that her daughter was in the audience and "I don't want her to get to 65 years old and worry about whether she's going to have access to health care and whether she's going to have Social Security."

As a lobbyist, Jolly represented a group founded by a local businessman who wrote in a book that he supported turning Social Security into a "defined contribution" plan for people under 50. Under that plan, Social Security payments could fluctuate with market conditions. But Jolly said that is not his own position, nor was it something he specifically lobbied for.

Sink maintained that there should be ways to reduce costs of some such programs by looking for more efficient approaches. "For example, we should bring the drug companies to the table to negotiate lower rates for Medicare recipients," she said.

Jolly, meanwhile, has taken the offensive against Sink on Obamacare, pointing out that she supports the program. Jolly said it has hurt businesses and many individuals, and should be repealed. Sink said she supports the program, but thinks several fixes are needed.

Regarding Social Security, Libertarian Overby said "I am in favor of increasing the retirement age to better keep pace with longevity projections and using a more accurate model of inflation to earning ratios to calculate the COLAs."

Overby, 27, a commercial diver, also said in a written statement, "I oppose needs-based testing because it penalizes those seniors who both paid into Social Security and saved privately."

A write-in candidate, Michael Levinson, 72, also is running. His name will not be on the ballot, but people who wish to vote for him can do so by writing his name in a space provided on the ballot.

More online

To learn more about candidates on the March 11 special election ballot, go to:

Pinellas congressional candidates battle over Social Security, Obamacare 02/24/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2014 1:19pm]
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