Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact: Democrats' claim that David Jolly wants to privatize Social Security is misleading

Issues affecting seniors continue to drive a lot of the attack ads in the race to fill the seat held by the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

One of the more persistent has been Democratic accusations that Republican candidate David Jolly wants to fundamentally change Social Security. In a robocall that began targeting Pinellas County's independent seniors this month, the Florida Democratic Party reinforces the attack.

"Lobbyist Jolly also supports privatizing Social Security, which could force seniors to gamble with their retirement on the stock market, and Jolly even praised the Ryan budget that turns Medicare into a costly voucher program," a woman's voice says during the call.

Former congressional aide-turned-lobbyist Jolly has faced repeated attacks over his past advocacy of issues.

Part of the evidence for this claim is that one of his old clients, Free Enterprise Nation, was run by a man named James MacDougald. Jolly in 2009 lobbied U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for issues relating to Medicare and Social Security — namely that future years of debt aren't readily apparent to taxpayers, according to the Republican candidate. He listed only "Social Security Reform" as one of the topics of the meeting on a lobbying disclosure form. His campaign said he was "critical of the Ryan budget" in the meeting with the congressman.

Ryan's budget plans over the years called for revamping the Social Security Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program by allowing workers younger than 55 to divert some of their contributions from Social Security to voluntary personal savings accounts. The money in the accounts would be invested, overseen by the government, instead of paying for current retiree benefits.

MacDougald has favored a similar approach, calling for a "defined contribution" plan for anyone younger than 50. That means the government would make a set contribution to workers, who then would have investment options. (MacDougald is Jolly's campaign finance co-chairman.)

Jolly has said he doesn't support this idea, but "anybody that has an intellectually honest conversation knows we have to have long-term entitlement reform in order to balance the budget." He told the Tampa Bay Times that in any such discussion, in the newspaper's paraphrasing, "everything should be on the table, including private accounts in which workers make their own investment decisions, as well as the important role of Social Security as a safety net." Democrats have subsequently used the wording as proof that Jolly supports privatization.

Democrats also are making hay about the fact that Jolly said "there was a lot of good in the Ryan budget" during the Dec. 8 edition of Bay News 9's Political Connections. That portion of the quote doesn't tell the whole story, however.

"I think we have to be careful on the Ryan budget for a couple of reasons," he said on the show. "Entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare — we know what that means to the community here. I have said from the very beginning, we have to protect the promises that have been made, to everybody."

When pressed about whether he would have voted for the budget proposal with House Republicans, Jolly said he "would have to examine the details of the Ryan plan."

He has also referred to his position in a Feb. 3 interview on WFLA.

"On Social Security and Medicare, I came out very early, in a Republican primary, full of Republican conservative voters, and suggested one, I would have voted against the Ryan plan," he said. "And two, I believe we do have to protect benefits not just for current beneficiaries, but for those who have already vested into the program."

Generally speaking, Jolly is saying he wants to particularly protect those who have worked for 10 years, while looking at changes for young workers.

Jolly told the Times editorial board in a Dec. 9 meeting before the primary that he supported keeping Social Security and Medicare the same except for the youngest workers.

Jolly referred to similar phrasing in a Feb. 3 debate with Democratic opponent Alex Sink and Libertarian hopeful Lucas Overby, adding that "long-term entitlement reform is the only way to reach a balanced budget."

So Democrats say Jolly "supports privatizing Social Security," using a paraphrased statement that private accounts should be on the table in discussing future reforms.

Jolly says he's been very clear where he stands on Social Security, but we don't think it's all that apparent. Saying private accounts should be an option doesn't denote advocacy, but rather a willingness to explore options.

Which option Jolly favors isn't so clear, beyond setting some kind of benefit guarantee for people who have already qualified for Social Security or are currently receiving payments.

Democrats are attempting to make it sound like he is 100 percent behind the idea, but don't offer any proof beyond a paraphrased statement. We rate the statement Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

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