Mitt Romney refused to let Rick Perry off the Social Security hook, challenging him at the start of the GOP debate Monday night to repudiate the position in his book that the old-age insurance program is a "Ponzi scheme" that should be run by the states.
"Do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program?" Romney asked.
"We should have a conversation," Perry replied.
"We're having that right now," Romney said. "You're running for president."
Perry didn't back down from the Ponzi rhetoric, arguing that "this is a broken system, it has been called a Ponzi scheme long before me."
"The term Ponzi scheme is over the top, unnecessary and frightening to many people," Romney replied.
Perry, as of the end of the exchange, was still holding on to the view that states should take a bigger role in the program -- a policy solution that would end Social Security.
The applause, however, was nearly all on Perry's side.
Just minutes after Perry and Romney's tense exchange, the Perry campaign sent out a press release headlined, "Setting the Record Straight on Social Security."
"While Governor Rick Perry is having an honest conversation with the American people about the future of Social Security, Candidate Mitt Romney is posturing and running from his past positions," writes the Perry camp.
The campaign is trying to argue that Romney has also tried to "scare" senior citizens about the state of Social Security, which the former Massachusetts governor is now accusing Perry of doing.
They point out a passage from "Citizen Romney's" book:
“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.”
During the debate, Perry said that Romney, in his book, had essentially called Social Security a "criminal" enterprise. The audience applauded loudly.
Romney accused Perry of quoting him inaccurately, responding: "What I said was Congress taking money out of the Social Security trust fund is like criminal, and it is, and it's wrong."