Rick Perry pushed back on accusations by Mitt Romney that he supports each state creating its own independent system of Social Security, during the GOP debate Thursday night.
"The bottom line is, we never said we were going to move this back to the states," Perry said.
Rather, he said, state employees and state retirees should have the option to "go off of Social Security." In Romney's home state of Massachusetts, for example, "almost 96 percent of ... people who are on that program, retirees and state people, are off the Social Security program," he said.
Perry appears to be referring to state workers who receive state pensions, and are thus ineligible for Social Security.
He added that people on Social Security right now shouldn't be worried about losing their benefits under his proposal. "We have made a solemn oath to the people of this country that the Social Security program in place today will be there for them," he said.
Here is the transcript of the exchange between Perry and Romney:
GOV. PERRY: Well, let me just say first, for those people that are on Social Security today, for those people that are approaching Social Security, they don't have anything in the world to worry about. We have made a solemn oath to the people of this country that that Social Security program in place today will be there for them. Now, it's not the first time that Mitt's been wrong on some issues before. And the bottom line is, is we never said that we were going to move this back to the states. What we said was we ought to have as one of the options -- the state employees and the state retirees, they being able to go off of the current system onto one that the states would operate themselves. As a matter of fact, in Massachusetts, his home state, almost 96 percent of the people who are on that program, retirees and state people, are off of the Social Security program. So having that option out there to have the states -- Louisiana does it -- almost every state has their state employees and the retirees -- that are options to go off of Social Security. That makes sense. It's an option that we should have.
MS. KELLY: Governor Romney, are you satisfied with that?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, it's different than what the governor put in his book just -- what, six months ago and what you said on your interviews following the book. So I don't know -- there's a Rick Perry out there that's saying that it -- almost to quote, it says that -- that -- that the federal government shouldn't be in the pension business, that it's unconstitutional -- unconstitutional, and it should be returned to the states. So you'd better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that. (Laughter, cheers, applause) Now, my own -- my own view is -- my own view is that we have to make it very, very clear that Social Security is a responsibility of the federal government, not the state governments, that we're going to have one plan, and we're going to make sure that it's fiscally sound and stable. And I'm absolutely committed to keeping Social Security working. I've put in my book that I wrote a couple of years ago a plan for how we can do that to make sure Social Security is stable not just for the next 25 years but for the next 75. Thank you. (Applause.)
GOV. PERRY: And I would like to respond to that.
MS. KELLY: Go ahead, Governor Perry.
GOV. PERRY: Speaking of books and talking about being able to have things in your books and back and forth, your economic adviser talked about "Romneycare" and how that was an absolute bust, and it was exactly what "Obamacare" was all about. As a matter of fact, between books, your hard copy book, you said that it was exactly what the American people needed to have -- that's "Romneycare" -- given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out. (Cheers, applause.) So, speaking of not getting it straight in your book, sir -- (inaudible). (Cheers, applause.)
MS. KELLY: Governor Romney?
GOV. PERRY: (You've/he's ?) got a bad memory.
MR. ROMNEY: Governor Perry? Governor Perry, we were -- we were talking about Social Security, but if you want to talk about health care, I'm happy to do that.
MR. BAIER: We are going to have a round on --
MR. ROMNEY: I actually -- I actually wrote my book, and in my book I said no such thing. What I said -- actually, when I put my health care plan together -- and I met with Dan Balz, for instance, of The Washington Post. He said, is this a plan that if you were president you would put on the nation, have the whole nation adopt it? I said, absolutely not. I said, this is a state plan for a state, it is not a national plan. And it's fine for you to retreat from your own words in your own book, but please don't try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book. I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did. And I believe that the people -- (bell rings) -- of this country can read my book and see exactly what it is. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)