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Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters has straddled two positions on Social Security, suggesting he wanted to privatize but also saying he doesn’t want to change it.
In a debate during the primary campaign, Masters floated the idea of privatizing, citing a need to “cut the knot at some point.”
Some six weeks later, after winning the Republican nomination, he insisted he doesn’t want to privatize.
While Blake Masters campaigned to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Arizona, he floated the idea of privatizing a venerable program cherished by millions of Americans: Social Security.
After winning the nomination, Masters, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, insisted that he would not privatize Social Security.
The apparent shift is a call for the Flip-O-Meter, which rates an official's consistency on an issue.
The rating is not making a value judgment about a politician who changes positions on an issue. Some voters appreciate politicians who are flexible and can compromise or adapt their positions to the wishes of their voters.
Democrats have long attacked Republicans with claims that Republicans want to privatize Social Security.
Social Security benefits for today’s recipients come from the proceeds of payroll taxes paid by younger and middle-aged workers. Over the years, some conservatives have pushed for turning Social Security into a system in which workers invest at least some of their money to provide for retirement.
The upside, supporters argue, is retirement nest eggs could be much higher, given that historical rates of return from private investments are higher than those for Social Security. One downside is the possibility of market losses.
Even though Social Security funds would likely be invested more conservatively than many private investments, doing so would still carry risk that beneficiaries could lose value or, in a worst-case scenario, see their savings wiped out entirely. Neither outcome is possible under the current Social Security program.
At a June debate in Arizona, the Republican Senate candidates were asked about reports of Medicare and Social Security going insolvent in future years.
"What should be done to keep the promise that the federal government made to current beneficiaries?" the moderator asked. "What should retirement security or financial freedom look like for the next generation?"
Masters brought up privatization, saying:
"We do need entitlement reform, but we can’t just slash entitlements; it’s more complicated than that, right? We can’t pull the rug out from seniors who are currently receiving Social Security, who are currently receiving Medicare. People have built their financial lives around these programs. And so, how to reform the system in a way that doesn’t actually hurt the people who paid into it, right?
"We’ve got to cut the knot at some point, though, because, I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to receive Social Security. … My kids, they’re not going to receive Social Security. And we need fresh and innovative thinking, right? Maybe we should privatize Social Security, right? Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it, past a certain point, because the government, it is just too big."
The Arizona Republic noted Masters’ debate comments in an August news story and reported that at a later forum, he told an attendee, "I don’t think we should, like, mess with Social Security. Keep it." Masters then said he favored loosening restrictions on investment accounts for young people.
After his Aug. 3 primary win, Masters was more decisive in stating a different position.
An Arizona Republic news article published Aug. 8 highlighted how Masters backtracked from his comments at the debate.
"I do not want to privatize Social Security. I think, in context, I was talking about something very different. We can’t change the system. We can’t pull the rug out from seniors. I will never, ever support cutting Social Security," he said.
Masters told the newspaper he "would have to study" what revenue adjustments he would make to sustain the program.
Masters said the government could incentivize a "culture of savers," particularly younger Americans, by doing things like raising investment limits on individual retirement accounts. (Contributions to a Roth individual retirement account in 2022 are capped at $6,000.)
"We want people to invest. We want people to feel secure and thrive," Masters told the Republic. "And then you want well-tailored government programs, like Social Security, to serve as a backstop to make sure that no one falls through the cracks."
Speaking to reporters Aug. 16, Masters said his privatization comment at the debate "was probably a misstatement by me. What I meant was, you have supplemental programs, you encourage young people to save." He added: "Maybe we should think about increasing Social Security payments."
During the primary, Masters floated the idea of privatizing Social Security, saying "private retirement accounts, get the government out of it, past a certain point." At another point he hedged, saying we should not "mess with" Social Security.
After winning the Republican nomination, Masters was more decisive, saying he did not want to privatize Social Security.
Masters’ shift is a partial change in position. We rate it a Half Flip.
RELATED: Blake Masters’ PolitiFact file
RELATED: Mark Kelly’s PolitiFact file
Meta, Mark Kelly Facebook and Instagram ad, Aug. 5 to Aug. 9, 2022
Meta, Retired Americans PAC Arizona Facebook and Instagram ad, started running Aug. 9, 2022
Email, Mark Kelly campaign spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer, Aug. 16, 2022
Email, Blake Masters campaign spokesperson Katie Miller, Aug. 16, 2022
Twitter, advanced search of @bgmasters for Social Security, Aug. 24, 2022
YouTube, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee "Walk Away" ad, Aug. 15, 2022
YouTube, DemSenClips "Walk Away (Alejarse)" post, Aug. 15, 2022
YouTube, FreedomWorks Media "FreedomWorks Arizona Senate Forum" post (47:20; 53:05), June 24, 2022
Twitter, CNN reporter Kyung Lah tweet, June 23, 2022
Arizona Republic, "'It's time for something new': Blake Masters brings fire, more nuance to Arizona's Senate race," (via Nexis) Aug. 8, 2022
Arizona Republic, "Blake Masters isn't just moderating on issues. He's done a full 180," Aug. 10, 2022
Arizona Republic, "Who is Blake Masters? Here's what you need to know about the Arizona GOP Senate candidate," posted Aug. 4, 2022, updated Aug. 9, 2022
AZFamily.com, "Arizona Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters fires back at attack ad," Aug. 16, 2022
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