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Mitt Romney, In His Book: 'American People Have Been.. Defrauded Out Of Their Social Security' [UPDATED]

Mitt Romney Social Security

First Posted: 09/08/11 04:33 PM ET Updated: 11/08/11 05:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's charge that Texas Gov. Rick Perry's views on Social Security are not only out of the conservative mainstream but make him virtually unelectable was the defining headline to emerge from Thursday night's presidential debate.

But it also revealed that Perry's campaign operation may not yet be completely up to speed, despite the fact that he is now the frontrunner.

Perry seemed blindsided by Romney's charge, arguing simply that the current economic situation justified blunt statements he has made in the past -- namely, that Social Security is a "Ponzi Scheme" and a "monstrous lie." Yet Perry left a more persuasive defense on the shelf: Romney has used similarly inflammatory language when discussing Social Security in the past.

"[T]he American people have been effectively defrauded out of their Social Security," Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, wrote in his 2010 book "No Apology." "In 1982, the government raised Social Security taxes with the intention of creating a surplus that could be set aside in some fashion for the baby boomers when they retired. But for the last thirty years, the surplus has been spent, not on retirement security, but on regular budget items."

“Let’s look at what would happen if someone in the private sector did a similar thing. Suppose two grandparents created a trust fund, appointed a bank as trustee, and instructed the bank to invest the proceeds of the trust fund so as to provide for their grandchildren’s education. Suppose further that the bank used the proceeds for its own purposes, so that when the grandchildren turned eighteen, there was no money for them to go to college. What would happen to the bankers responsible for misusing the money? They would go to jail. But what has happened to the people responsible for the looming bankruptcy of Social Security? They keep returning to Congress every two years.”

There are distinctions between calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, as Perry has, and Romney's argument that Americans have been defrauded out of its benefits and that the program's caretakers should be punished. But those distinctions aren't huge.

More distance exists between Perry and Romney's prospective remedies. The former has suggested that the program be administered by the states. The latter, in his book, offered four potential reforms: raise the Social Security tax rate (which he opposes); raise the retirement age (which he's intrigued by); change the payment structure of benefits (which he supports), and "individual retirement accounts" (which he backs, with reservations over the volatility of private markets).

Still, with Romney insisting during the debate that "under no circumstances" would he ever say Social Security was "a failure"; with his campaign blasting out press releases with headlines calling Perry "Reckless" and "Wrong" about the program; and with his advisers arguing, post-debate, that Perry couldn't possibly win the presidency, given his draconian views on Social Security, it's remarkable that Perry never brought up Romney's book.

The task was left to former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign.

“Despite what Governor Romney's campaign wants you to believe, when it comes to out-of-the-mainstream attacks on social security, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are two peas in a pod," Matt David, Hunstman's campaign manager, said in a press release on Thursday. "Governor Romney’s shameless pandering last night on social security is just another example of the problems with his 'say anything' approach to political campaigns."

Romney's campaign declined a request for comment.


UPDATE: 5:04 p.m.

Thursday evening, Rick Perry's campaign put out a press release highlighting Mitt Romney's past statements on Social Security. The text of the release is below:


Mitt Romney’s Social Insecurity
Despite Debate Posturing, Romney’s Writings Compare Social Security to a Criminal Enterprise

AUSTIN -- The Perry Campaign for President today contrasted former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s posturing on Social Security last night at the Reagan Library Presidential Debate with his recently published book, exposing his inconsistencies on the issue.

Last night, Romney said, “Under no circumstances would I ever say, by any measure, it’s a failure. It is working for millions of Americans.”

However, in his book “No Apology: The Case For American Greatness”, which was published just last year, Romney compared those managing Social Security to criminals, saying:

“Let’s look at what would happen if someone in the private sector did a similar thing. Suppose two grandparents created a trust fund, appointed a bank as trustee, and instructed the bank to invest the proceeds of the trust fund so as to provide for their grandchildren’s education. Suppose further that the bank used the proceeds for its own purposes, so that when the grandchildren turned eighteen, there was no money for them to go to college. What would happen to the bankers responsible for misusing the money? They would go to jail. But what has happened to the people responsible for the looming bankruptcy of Social Security? They keep returning to Congress every two years.”

Romney also says in his book, “To put it in a nutshell, the American people have been effectively defrauded out of their Social Security.”

“In his book, Romney compared Social Security to a fraudulent criminal enterprise, but last night he ran from his position,” said spokesman Ray Sullivan. “His evolving and inconsistent position on this important issue is curious, but unfortunately not unusual.”

Not only has Romney compared Social Security to a criminal enterprise, he said just two weeks ago in New Hampshire:

“I don’t know of any Republican whose running for office who said they want to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits to people who are retired or near retirement. Not one, I haven’t heard a word of it…so Republicans, like myself, are not gonna cut social security or Medicare for people who are retired or near retirement. And for the people who say we are, they are demagoguing an issue very much that harms America. Because we need to be truthful on this.” (8/24/11, Lebanon, New Hampshire)

“Governor Perry believes that Social Security for current beneficiaries, and those nearing retirement, can and must be protected,” said Sullivan. “Additionally, citizens of all ages, experts and elected officials must seriously discuss reforms to Social Security to make it financially sound and sustainable for the long haul.”

“Americans want a leader to speak honestly about the financial challenges facing our nation,” said Sullivan. “Traditional political rhetoric and tap-dancing don't comfort Americans deeply concerned about the future of our nation.”

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