09/16/2015 03:25 pm ET

Carly Fiorina Keeping Social Security Views Secret Until She's President

"It's not a dodge. I am deadly serious."
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina will tell you what she thinks of Social Security, but only after you vote for
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina will tell you what she thinks of Social Security, but only after you vote for her. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina is "not prepared" to talk about Social Security, saying she will only propose reforms after she's president.

"I am not prepared to go to the American people and talk to them about how we're going to reform Social Security and Medicare," Fiorina told CNBC's John Harwood in an interview published Wednesday, "until I can demonstrate to them that the government can execute with excellence, perform its responsibilities with excellence, serve the people who pay for it with excellence."

Harwood was impressed. "That is a dodge worthy of a very good politician," he told the former Hewlett-Packard CEO. 

Fiorina denied that she had just dodged. "I am deadly serious," she said.

Social Security and Medicare are popular programs that provide retirement benefits and health insurance to more than 50 million older Americans. The programs face long-term financing shortfalls, but sometimes politicians are shy about proposing reforms because older Americans like to vote and don't like to hear about benefit cuts. Without benefit cuts, the only way to fix the financing is tax increases, and Republicans hate those. 

Fiorina has plenty of company in her Social Security hiding place. Even members of Congress can be shy about reform. The most recent budget outline proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives punts the problem to a nonexistent bipartisan commission that would study the issue and "report back with specific legislative proposals for Congress and the President to consider."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another Republican presidential candidate, said in July that we ought to "phase out" Medicare because of its long-term actuarial imbalance. He has not repeated the "phase out" suggestion and later claimed he had been taken out of context.

Other candidates have been more forthright. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for his part, has called for benefit cuts, while former neurosurgeon Ben Carson has taken the hopeful position that it would be great if some people would just opt out of Social Security.

Harwood is good at catching presidential candidates in egregious dodge attempts. After he'd told another reporter he agreed with Donald Trump's call to end birthright citizenship, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told Harwood he hadn't done so. "I'm not taking a position on it one way or the other," Walker said.