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Crist's slam on Rubio's Social Security position leaves out key point

Charlie Crist's latest attack ad targets Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio and hits on a touchy subject for elderly Floridians: Social Security.

The 30-second ad aims to sway votes in a key demographic. Florida's 60 and older population makes up more than 30 percent of registered voters, and more than 40 percent of the voters who cast ballots in 2006.

Here's a transcript of the ad:

Work longer, get by on less.

That's the Marco Rubio retirement plan. Rubio wants to raise the Social Security retirement age. That means you'll work harder and longer for your money. And Rubio wants to cut benefits, though it's already tough enough to make ends meet.

That's Washington for you — balance the budget on the backs of seniors.

There's a better choice.

Charlie Crist is against raising the retirement age. He'll protect Social Security because our seniors have earned it.

The claim that we're checking is that Rubio "wants to raise the Social Security retirement age" and "cut benefits."

Rubio's campaign responded promptly to the attack. "In his latest desperate attempt to say and do anything to win an election, Charlie Crist has launched a desperate false attack ad designed solely to mislead Florida voters and scare seniors about Marco Rubio's Social Security position," says a Rubio news release. "The ad falsely claims that Rubio wants to cut Social Security benefits to 'balance the budget on the backs of seniors.' This claim is demonstrably false."

More than 3.5 million Floridians receive Social Security benefits. To be eligible, a person must be between 65 and 67 (depending on the year born), be disabled, be a survivor of a worker who died or be a dependent of Social Security beneficiaries.

Social Security was created in 1935 to help elderly and other Americans with economic hardships. It's funded by payroll taxes.

This year, for the first time, it will pay out more in benefits than it takes in. The deficit, approximately $41 billion, will be offset by money in the Social Security trust fund. By 2014, as the baby boomer generation retires, deficits are expected to increase, and by 2037 the trust fund will be empty, with incoming taxes able to pay out only 75 percent of benefits through 2084.

So something needs to change to keep Social Security solvent.

Rubio has suggested that one solution is to gradually raise the retirement age. Speaking to reporters on Jan. 27, Rubio said the "retirement age issue is going to have to be confronted at some point as part of a measure to reform Social Security."

He also spoke of raising the retirement age in a March Wall Street Journal interview. "Privatization of the accounts has come and gone, (but) there are other alternatives, such as (raising) the retirement age, how you adjust payments in the future, 'need' measures, et cetera," he said.

The idea came up again during a March 28 Fox News Sunday debate with Crist. Host Chris Wallace asked Rubio if he would raise the retirement age.

"I think that has to be on the table. That's got to be part of the solution. The retirement age that gradually increases for people of my generation, I think has got to be part of …," Rubio says before getting cut off.

He has stated that position throughout the campaign, with one caveat — no changes for people nearing retirement or now retired.

"I think if you're 55 years of age or older or close enough to retirement … I think this is off the table," he told Fox.

Rubio also suggested changes in the cost-of-living adjustments beneficiaries receive.

In the March Fox News debate, Rubio said: "I think all of that has to be on the table, including the way we index increases in cost of living. All of these issues have to be on the table."

And on CBS's Face the Nation, he said: "Younger workers like myself, people 39 years of age like I am, we're going to have to accept that there's going to be some changes to Social Security. … And perhaps they're going to have to change the way the benefit is indexed. Perhaps we're going to have to continue to allow the retirement age to fluctuate, as it has been doing since the early 1980s.

"But again, that's for younger workers like myself who have 20 or 30 years to prepare for this. People that are on the system now, or let's say 10 years from retirement or 12 years from retirement, these folks can't all of a sudden make a change to adjust for it. So I think we have to start talking honestly about the long-term challenges facing a very important program, Social Security, because we want to save it. It's important. We want to preserve it."

That full quote probably best explains Rubio's position. He supports what amounts to benefit cuts and raising the retirement age, in order to keep Social Security solvent, but not for current retirees or folks nearing retirement. He says that without changes, Social Security won't be able to meet its obligations.

Crist's ad claims that Rubio "wants to raise the Social Security retirement age" and "cut benefits." Rubio, in his own words, says as much.

But the ad fails to mention the caveat in Rubio's thinking — that any adjustments to Social Security, whether to the retirement age or benefits, would not affect either current retirees or people nearing retirement.

The ad also says that Rubio wants to "balance the budget on the backs of seniors." That's not true. The changes to Social Security Rubio supports are to make the program solvent long term, not to create extra tax revenues to use to balance the budget, fund other federal programs or to pay down the federal debt.

Crist's ad is correct in pointing out that Rubio supports proposals to keep Social Security solvent past 2037 by raising the retirement age and potentially reducing benefits. But the ad fails to mention that Rubio's proposals would not affect any current retirees, nor people nearing retirement. So, we think it's appropriate to rate this claim Half True.

The statement

Marco Rubio "wants to raise the Social Security retirement age," and "cut benefits."

Charlie Crist, Oct. 5, 2010, in a TV ad.

The ruling

Crist's ad is correct in pointing out that Rubio supports proposals to keep Social Security solvent past 2037 by raising the retirement age and potentially reducing benefits. But the ad fails to mention that Rubio's proposals would not affect any current retirees, or people nearing retirement. So, we think it's appropriate to rate this claim Half True.

Crist's slam on Rubio's Social Security position leaves out key point 10/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 11, 2010 8:18am]

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