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Demonizing privatization was a key to the Democrat's success in defeating President George W. Bush's plan to change Social Security. Now they're using it again in an attempt to hold on to legislative majorities in the House and the Senate. In his latest TV ad, Senate candidate Michael Bennet, D-Col., questions whether his opponent, Ken Buck, is the right person for the job.
The ad opens with a video of Buck saying he'll be the "voice of people on Main Street" but quickly transitions to ominous music and a narrator asking "Who is Ken Buck" and "Does he speak for Colorado?" The narrator goes on make a series of charges, including that "Buck wants to privatize Social Security."
History has shown that accusing your opponent of wanting to privatize Social Security is a good political strategy. President Obama has certainly taken notice. During the 2008 campaign, then candidate Obama accused Sen. John McCain of wanting to revitalize Bush's plan to "privatize" Social Security. We rated that Barely True. And during his weekly address in August, Obama said that some Republican leaders in Congress" are "pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall." We rated it Barely True once again.
So how does the evidence stack up in this case?
In March of 2010, while speaking at the Constitutionalist Today forum, Buck was asked whether it is "constitutional for the government to have a Social Security program where it directs the monies that we put into it?" Here is his response, in its entirety:
"I don't know whether it's constitutional or not. It is certainly a horrible policy in what happened in the LBJ Administration back in the 60's when they took the money out of the trust fund to fund general fund programs, and what we ended up with was a system that will be bankrupt anywhere from 10 to 25 years from now. It is a bad policy. I don't know that the federal government should be involved in a retirement plan. It should be a plan that certainly once people pay into it, they have the expectation of getting a return, and they're entitled to that, but the idea the federal government should be running health care or retirement or any of those programs is fundamentally against what I believe and that is that the private sector runs programs like that far better."
So Buck is clearly critical of Social Security in its current form, and he did say that the "private sector runs programs like that (Social Security) far better," but is he actually for privatizing the program? Here is what Owen Loftus, Ken Buck's press secretary, told Denver's 9News on Aug. 31, 2010:
"Ken is not in favor of privatizing Social Security. Here is Ken's position -- For current beneficiaries; the government has made a sacred promise. Current retirees have planned their lives based on these Social Security benefits. For older workers approaching retirement, they have already planned their retirement. We need to ensure that Social Security is solvent for these workers. All ideas should be on the table to ensure this. These can include some sort of means testing, or raising the retirement age to reflect the fact that people live longer than they used to. For younger workers and future generations, the issue isn't Social Security; it's savings. We must ensure that Social Security is there for younger workers when they retire, and that retains its main function as a safety net for retirees. To do this, the government needs to craft policies to encourage younger workers to save more."
During a July 22, 2010 debate sponsored by Denver's 9News, Buck said, "We've got to peg Social Security to individuals so those individuals have the ability perhaps to invest in various funds that are approved by the government. But those individuals also own that fund."
Then there is an interview with CNN's John King on Aug. 11, 2010. Asked whether he thinks the government should be involved in retirement policy, Buck responded that he does not think "it's what the Founding Fathers intended, but we have the policy. We've made a promise to our seniors. We need to keep that promise. I think we need to make sure that we are putting Social Security on a sustainable path. It's absolutely something that the federal government is going to be involved in, in the future. We can make it the best program we can make it."
Trevor Kincaid, communications director for Michael Bennet, maintains, however, that Buck has shown hostility toward the Social Security program. "Context again is important here, and in the context of an entire answer in which he explicitly questions whether Social Security should exist at all, Buck's hostility towards the program (at least in its current form) is clear. And calling the program in its current form a horrible policy is calling the program as it exists a horrible policy," he told 9News.
Going back to the original claim, Michael Bennet said that Buck wants to privatize Social Security, using a term that we believe is often used to scare seniors into thinking that their lifetime savings will be transferred into the stock market -- the same one that took a plunge in 2008 and is still struggling. He said that he does not think that the Founding Fathers intended to have the program, and he openly stated that the private sector would do a better job of allowing younger workers to save. But he also has been very clear that he does not want to change the program for current retirees or those close to retiring. Bennet's ad gives the impression that Buck wants to expose all seniors' benefits to the vicissitudes of the stock market, but we find that's not the case. As a result, we rate this Half True.
YouTube, Michael Bennet's TV ad, Aug. 25, 2010
Phone Interview, Owen Loftus, Press Secretary for Ken Buck, Sept. 1, 2010
9News, TRUTH TEST: The context around Buck's statements, by Jeffrey Wolf and Adam Schrager, August 31, 2010
Politico, Primary words haunt Ken Buck, by David Catanese, June 28, 2010
Denver Post, Political Polygraph: A fact check on Ken Buck, by Elizabeth Miller, Aug. 14, 2010
Politico, Can Ken Buck buck the system?, by David Catanese and Jonathan Martin, Aug. 13, 2010
Real Clear Politics, Interview with Colorado Senate Candidate Ken Buck, by John King, Aug. 11, 2010
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