Romney and Perry Tied in Florida, Will Continue Battle Over Social Security

As a new poll of 1400 Florida Republicans by War Room Logisitics finds former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in a dead heat with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Florida, where Romney and Perry stand on Social Security may decide who pulls ahead of the other in Florida, a crucial state in the 2012 nominating process. 

As nine GOP presidential candidates debate Thursday night in the Fox News/Google debate, Social Security will again take center stage.

A recent Gallup poll found that, “Perry’s decision to critique the financing structure of Social Security in stronger terms than are typically heard from most presidential candidates may not be risky within Republican circles” because “as many Republicans say they are more likely to support Perry as a result as say they are less likely, with most indicating it won’t make a difference.”

Independent voters, though, according to Gallup, viewed his comments “more negatively and, in line with Romney’s argument that this makes Perry unelectable, nearly 4 in 10 Republicans agree it could hurt Perry in a general election.”

According to Gallup, “tactically speaking, Perry might benefit in the short term by playing to the large minority of Republicans who favor more radical changes to the system,” which could help him “consolidate conservative support,” but “as the Republican presidential field is winnowed during the primaries — and particularly if it is reduced to just Perry and Romney — this controversy could complicate Perry’s chance of winning the nomination and, ultimately, the general election.”

The Romney campaign saw the same vulnerabilities, and issued a Social Security challenge to Perry. 

Romney Communications Director Gail Gitchko said that “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” and that it was “troubling that he has refused to answer questions on what the Social Security program would look like at the state level.” 

The Romney campaign issued these “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?

Romney and Perry will continue their Social Security debate, and which side Republican voters choose may be a leading indicator about how strongly the GOP primary voters will go with what is in their hearts in a cycle in which many think defeating Obama is the most important objective.