A national TV appearance Sunday by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio revived the debate over Social Security and left independent rival Charlie Crist painting the frontrunner as a "flip-flopper."
Appearing on CBS' Face the Nation, Rubio said he favored some adjustments to the 75-year-old program, including possibly raising the retirement age for younger workers such as himself. However, he flatly opposed the idea of letting people put some money into private accounts.
Rubio has held that position for months, but in late January, he suggested privatization could work. He told reporters in Tallahassee that another option besides raising the retirement age "is giving people the option of taking some of their Social Security money, at least a portion thereof, and investing it in an alternative to the Social Security system itself."
The idea gained currency under President George W. Bush in 2005 but died amid tumultuous debate.
Gov. Crist's campaign on Sunday jumped at the opportunity to slap Rubio with a label more commonly attached to Crist: flip-flopper.
"Not only does Marco Rubio prefer to turn our seniors' hard-earned Social Security over to Wall Street, but he's lying about it," Crist spokesman Danny Kanner said in an e-mail.
Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said the candidate — who in March said that privatization is an idea that had "come and gone" — studied the idea and found it not workable.
"When Marco evaluates policies, he studies important elements like the fiscal impact, whereas Charlie Crist looks at the poll numbers and takes positions based on the votes he's trying to win on a given day," Burgos said.
A May article by the Associated Press said Rubio supported private accounts, including a sweeping set of proposals by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that included partial privatization. The Rubio campaign did not dispute the article Monday, rather restated his current stance against privatization and said the support of Ryan's proposal was not a blanket endorsement.
Crist has a well-established record of changing positions, particularly after leaving the Republican Party. But Crist has taken the politically safe stance on Social Security.
Raising the retirement age "really flies in the face of an awful lot of my fellow Floridians," Crist said during a March 28 debate with Rubio on Fox News Sunday.
Crist said he would root out waste and fraud, an idea experts say is hardly the root of problems facing Social Security. Experts generally agree that raising the retirement age is a solid proposal.
Last week, Crist suggested creating a pathway to citizenship (no "amnesty," he insists) for illegal immigrants that would contribute payroll taxes to the system. Some critics said it would only increase the burden on Social Security.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, the Democratic nominee in the Senate race, pointed out that as a lawmaker he helped fight the plans for privatization.
Times/Herald staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report.