First-term Democratic Congressman David Cicilline has been circulating a campaign flier attacking Republican Brendan Doherty over the issue of Social Security reform.
The two-column flier draws a contrast between the candidates over one of the most pressing issues facing Washington: how to keep the Social Security trust fund from running dry in the next 20 years.
In one column, there is this statement: "David will continue to fight against any efforts to privatize Social Security or reduce benefits." The opposing column states: "Doherty wants to raise the eligibility age for Social Security benefits for anyone born after 1960, with no regard for the challenges it would cause for people working in physically demanding occupations."
Doherty, the former head of the Rhode Island State Police, has said that raising the retirement age of Americans born around 1960 is worth considering. It’s the second part of that sentence that caught PolitiFact’s attention: "with no regard for the challenges it would cause for people working in physically demanding occupations." Had Doherty said that?
The flier states as its source an appearance Doherty made on "Newsmakers" on Channel 12 (WPRI) -- though it cites the broadcast date inaccurately. (It says "3/10/2010." The show actually aired March 11, 2012.)
Raising the eligibility age of Social Security recipients -- it’s now 67 for those born in 1960 or later -- has been talked about since at least 2010 when a bipartisan budget commission appointed by President Obama considered it.
Mr. Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to propose ways to balance the federal budget by 2015. It became known as the Simpson-Bowles commission after its two co-chairmen: former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, of Wyoming, and Democrat Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.
As part of its suggestion to raise the eligibility age, the Simpson-Bowles report specifically calls for a hardship exemption for people who work physically demanding jobs, such as fishermen or construction workers. Their strenuous professions would probably force them to retire by 62, the report says, and they would need retirement income when they do.
During the "Newsmakers" interview, Doherty is asked a general question about what kinds of changes might people expect in Social Security coverage 10 years from now.
Doherty uses the opportunity to first reiterate that he would protect the benefits of seniors and those about to enter the system but "down the road we need to look at Social Security .... I believe there are some good talking points in Simpson-Bowles."
Doherty is never asked any specific questions about how he feels about hardship exemptions nor does he bring up the issue, a point Ted Nesi, one of the show’s co-hosts, made last week in a blog post.
When we asked Cicilline’s campaign for any other evidence of Doherty’s position, campaign manager Eric Hyers said Doherty’s lack of specific mention of the hardship exemptions shows he doesn’t support them and has "no regard for the challenges" of those who work in physically demanding jobs.
The flier "is 100 percent accurate," Hyers contends.
"He has talked many, many times about raising the age of Social Security," said Hyers. "Never once has he talked about these exemptions. ... If this was a serious concern of his it would have come up."
Besides, Hyers said, the flier doesn’t actually say Doherty "opposes an exemption. It only says he has not made a point to speak about it."
(In fact, the flier says Doherty wants to raise the eligibility raise "with no regard" for physically challenging jobs.)
We asked the Doherty camp whether their candidate had ever in the past specifically mentioned whether he supported the hardship exemption. Just one reference would undeniably show that the Cicilline campaign was wrong.
Doherty campaign manager Robert Coupe said he didn’t think so because Doherty always talks about Social Security "in terms of the Simpson-Bowles proposal and this [the hardship exemptions] is part of it.
"Just because you don’t specifically say something doesn’t mean you can say they have no regard for it. That’s like asking us to disprove a negative."
A David Cicilline campaign flier says Brendan Doherty wants to raise the eligibility age for Social Security benefits for anyone born after 1960 "with no regard for the challenges it would cause for people working in physically demanding occupations."
But the Cicilline campaign provided no evidence that Doherty ever espoused that position.
Attacking someone for what he hasn’t specifically said -- that he supports the exemption -- defies logic, particularly since Doherty says he does support the Simpson-Bowles proposal, which would include the hardship exemptions if the eligibility age is raised.
We rate the statement False.
(Get updates from PolitiFact Rhode Island on Twitter: @politifactri. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)
Cicilline campaign flier, undated, accessed Aug. 8, 2012
Interviews: Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers, Aug. 9, 2012 Doherty campaign manager Robert Coupe, Aug. 9, 2012
Publication: Simpson-Bowles Commission Report, "The Moment of Truth," December 2010, accessed Aug. 9, 2012
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