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By Richard Locker September 17, 2012

Tennessee congressman defends vote raising Social Security age to 70 by saying it won’t happen until “turn of the century”

A central theme of Democratic challenger Eric Stewart’s campaign against 4th Congressional District incumbent Scott DesJarlais is the freshman’s support of House Republican budget plans and their impacts on Medicare and Social Security.

DesJarlais has sought to downplay attacks against his votes for raising the age of eligibility for Social Security benefits by arguing that no change will affect anyone currently 55 or older.

DesJarlais, a physician from South Pittsburg, Tenn., raised the issue on his own when he appeared on Nashville NewsChannel5’s weekly public affairs program "Inside Politics" on Aug. 17. He said: "I want to talk about the fact that the Paul Ryan plan helps save Medicare when the Democrat plan lets Medicare end. There’s a lot of misnomers out there. He wants to charge that we’re raising Social Security age to 70. Under the current structure, that happens sometime at the beginning of the next century."

In an interview  with The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, DesJarlais said that "as far as this charge that I voted to raise the retirement age to 70, there’s a process where the retirement is pushed back by one month every two years, so by the time the retirement age hits 70, it’ll be sometime around the turn of the century."

We can understand why a candidate treads carefully on Social Security. But there is no disputing this: On March 29, 2012, as the House was considering a series of Republican-sponsored budget reduction plans, DesJarlais voted for two separate GOP plans that would have major impacts on Social Security -- one which would have raised the eligibility age to 70 by 2048, or 52 years before the "turn of the century." Neither of the bills became law: The one that raised the retirement age to 70 in 2048 failed to pass the House and the other won House approval but never passed in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The first was a budget-reduction plan submitted by the Republican Study Committee, which calls itself "a group of House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda." All of Tennessee’s Republican House members except Rep. John Duncan Jr. of Knoxville are RSC members and all of them except Duncan voted for the RSC plan.

The RSC’s website describes its budget plan in full, including its proposal for "slowly increasing (Social Security’s) retirement age to 70 years…. For those born in 1978, the full-retirement age would remain at 70 years old."

By our calculator, 1978 plus 70 is 2048 – more than five decades before the turn of the next century.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s analysis says: "Starting in 2023, the RSC budget proposes to increase the Social Security full retirement age by two months every year until it reaches age 70 in the year 2047.

The RSC plan’s failure cleared the way later that day for House approval of a separate plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, now the GOP vice presidential candidate. The Ryan plan did not list specific changes for Social Security but required Social Security trustees to submit a stabilization plan to the President and for the President to submit a plan to Congress. DesJarlais also voted for that plan.

In defending the accuracy of his statements, DesJarlais and his staff in essence contend that the Democrats have been attacking him for voting for the Ryan bill – which on March 29 did not contain a detailed provision for raising Social Security’s retirement age – and that that was what he was responding to with his "turn of the century" claim. His office pointed to an earlier, 2010 version of Ryan’s plan called "Road Map to America’s Future" that did include a detailed provision saying the Social Security. That plan says that "retirement age will gradually increase until it reaches 70 in the next century." An important note on that, however -- DesJarlais was not in Congress in 2010. He did not vote on that plan.

DesJarlais’ statement on the matter says: "My statement regarding the time frame for raising social security is completely accurate when talking about Ryan’s budgetary roadmap, which has been the only budget that has been discussed and what I believed was being referred to."

A review of Stewart’s website, including a web video, and media releases shows he has been talking about both the RSC plan and  the Ryan budget plan. But a press release issued by Stewart’s campaign that says DesJarlais’ "turn of the century" claim "may be the falsity of the century" specifically refers to his vote for the RSC plan.

Our ruling

To defend himself against charges that he voted to raise the Social Security age to 70, the freshman congressman points to his support for Congressman Paul Ryan’s 2010 budgetary road map where the retirement age doesn’t hit 70 until the next century.

But DesJarlais was not even in Congress in 2010, and the only vote he ever made on a plan that included a target date for raising the age to 70 came earlier this year.That plan called for raising Social Security age to 70 by 2047 or 2048 -- 52 years before the century turns.

For that bit of misdirection, we give the congressman a ruling of Mostly False.

Our Sources

Email statement from Rep. DesJarlais, Sept. 7, 2012

Nashville NewsChannel5 "Inside Politics," broadcast Aug. 17, 2012,

The Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, "For District 4 incumbent backs JOBS, REFORMS, ROMNEY," Sept. 2, 2012

Republican Study Committee, "Cut, Cap, and Balance: A Budget for Fiscal Year 2013," March 2012

Bipartisan Policy Center, "Republican Study Committee Fiscal Year 2013 Budget: The Details," April 4, 2012

House Roll Call 149, Vote on Substitute Amendment (the RSC budget plan), March 29, 2012

"A Roadmap for America’s Future, Version 2.0, A Plan to Solve America’s Long-term Economic and Fiscal Crisis," U.S. Rep. Paul D. Ryan, January, 2010

Eric Stewart for Congress campaign website

Eric Stewart media release, "DesJarlais’s ‘Turn of the Century Statements on his vote to Raise Retirement age to 70 May be Biggest ‘Falsity of the Century’ "

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More by Richard Locker

Tennessee congressman defends vote raising Social Security age to 70 by saying it won’t happen until “turn of the century”

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