In second place in GOP presidential polls, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is not taking his foot off the gas, slamming front-runner Rick Perry almost daily on the Texas governor's past statements on Social Security.
In the last nine days, Romney's campaign has issued no fewer than seven press releases on Perry's stance on Social Security. They include comments Perry has made on TV talk shows and in his 2010 book Fed Up! that Social Security is an unconstitutional "Ponzi scheme" that should be managed by the states. The latest releases, issued the day before a key presidential debate in senior-heavy Florida, continue to accuse Perry of wanting to dismantle Social Security, and say he hasn't done enough to explain how the program could be operated at the state level.
Perry's camp has steered clear of specifics, including any state-based plan: "Gov. Perry believes we need to look at all options as we discuss how to fix the current system, which as it stands, is financially unsustainable," his spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said last week.
Cesinger said Perry doesn't want to abolish Social Security; he wants to protect it for current beneficiaries and those nearing retirement. Americans "want a leader to speak honestly about the financial challenges facing our nation," she said. "Traditional political rhetoric and tap-dancing don't comfort Americans deeply concerned about the future of our nation."
The barrage of Social Security attacks — just about the only ones coming out of Romney's press shop in the last week — seek to take advantage of the lack of specifics coming out of Perry's camp. They include quotes from four Florida elected officials casting doubt on states' abilities to safely and reliably operate Social Security, particularly in light of nationwide budget woes. "If Florida faces a budget shortfall," Florida state Sen. Anitere Flores asked, "will seniors fail to receive the Social Security benefits they have earned?"
They raise questions about what Perry's Social Security policy could look like — largely based on assumptions and Perry's past statements — that seek to paint him into a corner with specifics. How would a state-based program accommodate Americans who move from state to state, Romney's camp asks? Would Americans retain national Social Security numbers, or would they be state-based?
"Gov. Perry has the opportunity to clarify his proposal while he is in Florida," said Gail Gitcho, Romney's communications director, "a state with an extraordinarily high number of retirees and near retirees."
As for Romney's Social Security plan? In his book No Apology, Romney says Social Security could be fixed by increasing retirement age with exceptions, using the consumer price index to determine benefits for wealthy people, and allowing younger employees to put some of their Social Security tax into a private account.