POLITICS
09/21/2011 09:29 am ET Updated Nov 21, 2011

Mitt Romney Rules Out Rick Perry's Idea Of Moving Social Security To States [UPDATED]

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's campaign said Wednesday it has ruled out the idea, floated by fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, of moving Social Security to the state level.

"We reject turning the program over to the states," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told The Huffington Post in an email.

HuffPost asked the Romney campaign about the candidate's stance on the issue after the campaign sought to trip Perry up further over Social Security. On Wednesday, the Romney campaign released a list of detailed questions asking what would happen if the program were administered by state governments rather than the federal government, an idea that the Texas governor has suggested in the past.

The release of the six questions was timed to raise the issue with roughly 36 hours before the next Republican presidential primary debate, Thursday in Orlando, Fla. Perry will undoubtedly be asked about Social Security again, and the Romney campaign appeared to be attempting to increase the number of thorns on the stick it's using to whack its opponent.

Gail Gitcho, communications director for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said Perry wants to "dismantle" Social Security.

"He has refused to answer questions on what the Social Security program would look like at the state level," Gitcho said in the campaign's release. "Governor Perry has the opportunity to clarify his proposal while he is in Florida -- a state with an extraordinarily high number of retirees and near retirees."

The six questions take Perry's idea seriously, and raise mechanical and logistical issues about how such a change would work.

"Would individuals retain national Social Security numbers or would each state administer its own system?" the Romney campaign asks in one question. Another question asks: "What would happen to the Trust Fund that accrued while the [federal] system was in surplus? ... How would those funds be equitably allocated to the states?" (The full list of questions is below).

A Perry campaign spokesman has not yet responded to a request for comment Wednesday.

Romney must walk a fine line while criticizing Perry's lack of specific plans so far on the issue; Romney has laid out principles and endorsed some basic ideas for Social Security reform, but he has not yet released a proposal thick with details.

Romney has, however, said more of substance on the issue than Perry has.

In his 2010 book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," Romney said he would be open to raising the retirement age at which Americans become eligible for Social Security, with exceptions for those physically unable to work. He also said he would be willing to reduce benefits for "high-income individuals" by using the consumer price index rather than the wage index to determine payouts, and to give younger workers the option to "direct a portion of their Social Security tax to a private account."

FactCheck.org said last week that Romney's "private account" idea "bears some resemblance to the private Social Security accounts proposed by Al Gore in his 2000 presidential campaign as an 'add-on' to traditional Social Security, rather than as an optional 'carve-out' as Bush proposed."

Perry's willingness to speak bluntly about Social Security -- calling it a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie" -- has won him some plaudits with members of the conservative grassroots. But it's also put him under the microscope on the national stage. Romney's campaign has tried to go after the substance of Perry's past comments about moving the program to the state level and the questions about Social Security's constitutionality that Perry raised in his 2010 book, "Fed Up."

Perry sought to minimize his past statements on the subject in last week's GOP debate, which was in Tampa, Fla., by talking about the state administration idea as one of many to kick around.

"Are there ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or for retirees? We did in the state of Texas back in the 1980s," Perry said when pressed by Romney in the Tampa debate. "I think those types of thoughtful conversations with America -- rather than trying to scare seniors like you're doing and other people -- it's time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix that program where it's not bankrupt and our children actually know that there's going to be a retirement program there for them."

Perry's campaign manager, Dave Carney, said after Perry's first debate in California on Sept. 7 that moving Social Security to the state level "may be an option with public employees" but ruled out the idea for private sector employees.

"States won't run it for citizens, for non-employees. I don't think that's what he's talking about," Carney said.

Democrats sought to turn the six questions for Perry back on Romney, posing six questions regarding the health care overhaul Romney helped pass in Massachusetts in 2006, a law President Obama has said was a model for the national law that passed Congress in 2010. Romney has defended the individual mandate to buy health insurance that was included in the Massachusetts plan, saying each state should pursue its best options. But Romney has said he considers Obama's federal health care law a violation of state sovereignty.

The group Protect Your Care, set up to defend Obama's health care overhaul, asked its own six questions of Romney based on the ones the Romney campaign released.

"Devolving the program to the states does not address underlying fiscal challenges our health care system faces. Where a single program like the Affordable Care Act once worked to control costs, there would now be fifty," reads one of the questions from Protect Your Care. "How would Romney suggest a state such as [Massachusetts] address this challenge? Should it raise taxes, reduce benefits, or pursue other types of reform?"

UPDATE: 12:07 - The Perry campaign responded just before noon to Romney, accusing their rival of "sounding like a Democrat." Here is the full statement from Perry communications director Ray Sullivan.

"Mitt Romney's own book compared Social Security to a criminal enterprise. Now Mr. Romney is again sounding like a Democrat, distorting the truth and trying to scare senior citizens. As he has so many times in the past, Mr. Romney seems to forget he's a Republican.

“Mr. Romney has been running for president full time for nearly five years, and has failed to issue a specific plan on Social Security. Rick Perry and other conservatives are courageous enough to be honest about federal spending and entitlements, whether Mr. Romney and the liberals like it or not.

“Gov. Perry and other GOP leaders know Social Security must be fixed. Gov. Perry has been clear that he will protect benefits for those at and nearing retirement, and work with citizens, experts and elected leaders to fix Social Security financing for future generations.”

Here is the full list of questions for Perry released by the Romney campaign:

Six Questions for Rick Perry on Returning Social Security to the States

1. Constitutionality: Perry has asserted that a federally run Social Security program is unconstitutional. If this remains his position, it suggests that the program must be devolved to the states notwithstanding the advisability of such an approach. The first question in understanding Perry’s approach must be whether he believes there is no choice but to devolve or, alternatively, if he believes it is the right policy solution.

2. Unfunded Liabilities: Devolving the program to the states does not address underlying fiscal challenges. Where a single program once faced possible insolvency, there would now be fifty. How would Perry suggest a state such as Texas address this challenge? Should it raise taxes, reduce benefits, or pursue other types of reform?

3. Trust Fund Accounting: What would happen to the Trust Fund that accrued while the system was in surplus? Interest payments from the fund and draw-down on the principal are crucial funding streams for the national system that are unavailable to the states. How would those funds be equitably allocated to the states?

4. Mobility: How would a state-by-state system accommodate the enormous number of Americans who move across state lines during their lives, and especially as retirement nears? Would each state be responsible for supporting its current disabled and elderly population on its current payroll? Would funds paid into the system in one state follow a resident to another state later in life?

5. State Obligations: Would states be free to forego a pension program altogether? If so, what if any provision would be made for the disabled and elderly in that state? Or would they be expected to move to other states with more generous benefits, inevitably overwhelming those systems?

6. Administration: Would individuals retain national Social Security numbers or would each state administer its own system? Would individuals have any guarantee that commitments made during their working life are honored in retirement? Who would pay for the added expense associated with administering fifty programs instead of one?

Here is the list of questions for Romney released by Protect Your Care, the pro-Obama health care law group:

Six Questions for Romney on Returning Health Care to the States

1. Constitutionality: Romney has asserted that a federally run health care program is unconstitutional (even though as recently as his 2008 campaign he said his MA plan should be a national model). If this remains his position, it suggests that the program must be devolved to the states notwithstanding the advisability of such an approach. The first question in understanding Romney’s’s approach must be whether he believes there is no choice but to devolve or, alternatively, if he believes it is the right policy solution.

2. Unfunded Liabilities: Devolving the program to the states does not address underlying fiscal challenges our health care system faces. Where a single program like the Affordable Care Act once worked to control costs , there would now be fifty. How would Romney suggest a state such as MA address this challenge? Should it raise taxes, reduce benefits, or pursue other types of reform? Why should states like MA get better health care than the others when he used to say his MA plan was a model for the whole nation?

3. Trust Fund Accounting: What would happen to the Affordable Care Act funds all of the states have gotten so far for health care and jobs for the Affordable Care Act? These are already crucial funding streams for the national system, that have been factored into state budgets, that are unavailable on their own to the states. How would the states make up for this funding?

4. Mobility: How would a state-by-state system accommodate the enormous number of Americans who move across state lines during their lives, and especially as retirement nears and job changes happen? If someone moved from MA, one mile across the border into NH, would they lose their care?

5. State Obligations: Would states be free to forego a health care program and/or any health care regulations or protections altogether? If so, what if any provision would be made for the disabled and elderly in that state? Or would they be expected to move to other states with more generous benefits, like MA, inevitably overwhelming those systems?

6. Administration: Would individuals retain national health care benefits they have already gotten, like closing the prescription drug donut hole for seniors, or would each state administer its own system? Would individuals have any guarantee that commitments made so far from the Affordable Care Act or RomneyCare are honored? Who would pay for the added expense associated with administering fifty programs instead of one?