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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers September 13, 2011

Mitt Romney says Rick Perry wrote that Social Security is a 'failure'

At a Republican presidential debate in senior-rich Florida, Mitt Romney took Rick Perry to task on Social Security.

"In writing his book, Gov. Perry pointed out that … by any measure Social Security has been a failure," Romney said in the CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa on Sept. 12, 2011.

Here's the full quote:

WOLF BLITZER: "Gov. Romney, you said that Gov. Perry's position on Social Security is, quote, unacceptable and could even obliterate the Republican Party. Are you saying he could not, as Republican nominee, beat Barack Obama?"

MITT ROMNEY: "No, what I'm saying is that what he just said, I think most people agree with, although the term Ponzi scheme I think is over the top and unnecessary and frightful to many people. But the real issue is in writing his book, Gov. Perry pointed out that in his view that Social Security is unconstitutional, that this is not something the federal government ought to be involved in, that instead it should be given back to the states.

"And I think that view, and the view that somehow Social Security has been forced on us over the past 70 years that by any measure, again quoting book, by any measure Social Security has been a failure, this is after 70 years of tens of millions of people relying on Social Security, that's a very different matter."

Romney's source? Perry's 2010 book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington.

We pulled out our copy and found the correct passage. (Read more from PolitiFact about Perry's book.)

Five pages into a section called, "Runaway Entitlement Spending," on Page 62, Perry writes:

By any measure, Social Security is a failure. As author Jim Powell points out in FDR's Folly, one pro-FDR historian justified Social Security not on its merits but as an important "symbolic gesture to demonstrate that Roosevelt's heart was in the right place." This sounds a lot like justifying the current administration's policies because well-meaning politicians want to provide "hope."

Now, if you say Social Security is a failure, as I have just done, you will inherit the wind of political scorn. Seniors might think you want to cut the benefits they have paid for. Politicians will seek to take advantage, stirring up fear about benefits that will be lost if you elect another "heartless Republican." I get it. That's why only retired senators chair entitlement commissions.

We are told that no politician has the courage to raise these issues, even if avoiding them puts us on the fast track to financial run. But by remaining quiet, politicians are really saying they think the American people won't understand it if we share the grim details of our financial future, and that voters will simply kill -- or vote against -- the messenger in order to continue to receive an underfunded benefit that robbed them of the tens of thousands of dollars they should have made.

Is that how we should respect our fellow citizens?

So indeed, Perry said Social Security "is a failure;" he even acknowledged that doing so means he will "inherit the wind of political scorn."

What did Perry mean by "the tens of thousands of dollars they should have made"? In the same section of the book he says payroll taxes would have been better left in workers' pockets: "If only the New Dealers had been kind enough to allow workers to make their own choice about whether to participate. As we know from experience, individuals would have done better on their own."

He points out that "many private pension plans return 8 percent per year, compared to Social Security's paltry 2 percent or less." Then he offers the example of three Texas counties that opted out of Social Security for a private option before that door was shut in 1983.

"Employees in those private plans, having exercised their liberty at Washington's sufferance, are reaping the benefits." 

He doesn't address Social Security's other roles, such as disability insurance and survivor's benefits, nor what he believes should happen to low-income workers who under Social Security draw more in retirement benefits then they're able to contribute in payroll taxes.

Does Perry stand by his 2010 book? Less than a month ago he told a reporter in Des Moines, "I haven't backed off anything in my book. So read the book again and get it right." 

On Sept. 11, 2011, he clarified for USA Today, "As I said at the Reagan Library recently, Social Security benefits for current recipients and those nearing retirement must be protected. For younger workers, we must consider reforms to make Social Security financially viable."

But Romney made it clear he was quoting from Perry's book. He said "In writing his book, Gov. Perry pointed out that … by any measure Social Security has been a failure." And indeed, in Perry's book, Fed Up!, he touts the benefits of private plans and says: "By any measure, Social Security is a failure." We rate Romney's statement True.

Our Sources

CQ Transcriptswire, "Republican presidential candidates participate in a CNN-Tea Party Express GOP Presidential Debate," Sept. 12, 2011 (subscribers only)

Rick Perry, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, 2010

PolitiFact Texas, "Rick Perry stands by book," Aug. 30, 2011

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More by Becky Bowers

Mitt Romney says Rick Perry wrote that Social Security is a 'failure'

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