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Anchorage Daily News - Social Security Issue Vital In Campaign

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Location: Anchorage, AK

BENEFITS: McAdams, Miller, Murkowski agree changes needed.

By KYLE HOPKINS

As an election issue, Social Security has it all.

It's a New Deal-era entitlement program, making it a target for tea party groups. It puts money in people's pockets, giving voters a personal investment in the program. And those receiving the checks are seniors and retirees -- people who vote.

Candidates for the U.S. Senate seat on the ballot Nov. 2 in Alaska are all giving the issue its due, weighing in on questions such as whether Social Security taxes should be increased and whether the basic administration of the program should be changed. All the candidates agree changes are needed.

The Social Security program is expected to lose money continuously beginning in 2015, according to the Social Security Board of Trustees. By 2037, there will only be enough money to pay benefits at a reduced rate, the board reported in August.

Democrat Scott McAdams said last week he favors increasing Social Security taxes on the nation's highest-paid workers in order to keep the program afloat. Currently, only the first $106,800 a person makes is taxed to pay into Social Security.

McAdams said he would propose removing that tax cap on earnings.

"A CEO making $10 million a year pays the same Social Security tax as a worker on the North Slope that makes $150,000 a year. I don't think that's right," McAdams told reporters Wednesday after signing a pledge to fight any attempts to cut guaranteed benefits or privatize the program.

His Republican foe on the ballot, Joe Miller, says the federal government is close to bankruptcy and has mismanaged the program. He's said Social Security eventually needs to be privatized and on Friday said he disagrees with McAdams' plan.

"The last thing to do in the worst economy in the last 25 years is raise taxes on hard-working Alaskans," Miller said in a written statement. "I do not support McAdams' failed plan to increase taxes on Social Security recipients and Alaskans in order to sustain the program."

Miller also said he does not support cutting benefits to current Social Security recipients.

Write-in candidate and incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski says changes must be made to the program but she is waiting for recommendations this fall from federal commissions that have been examining the options for Social Security reform, according to her campaign.

"She is expecting that given that Americans are more healthy and are living longer, that an increase in the Social Security retirement age for newer workers will be required," a spokesman said Friday.

Murkowski does not support removing the cap on taxes for high-paid workers because the program is an insurance plan and "there must be some relationship between what people pay in and what they receive in benefits to maintain support for the program," according to a statement from her campaign.

DUMP THE PROGRAM?

This campaign season, much of the focus on Social Security involved Miller, who said during the Republican primary that he favored phasing out Social Security as a federal government-run program.

Two days after announcing she would wage a write-in campaign against Miller, who beat her in the Republican primary, Murkowski told CNN that Miller "wants to dump Social Security." He is suggesting some "pretty radical things," Murkowski said.

Here's how Miller's campaign described his position in a written statement Wednesday:

"Joe has pledged to not cut Social Security benefits for those who are currently receiving them or are about to receive them. He also recognizes that the current system is not sustainable in the long term and would work with fellow members of Congress to institute reforms that will allow future generations to enjoy the fruit of their labor as well."

The next day at a candidate forum in Anchorage, Miller told the crowd that the federal government is broken and near bankruptcy.

"My parents are Social Security recipients, they need to continue to receive those. But we know that longer term, things are going to change," he said.

Miller's campaign did not respond to questions about his position on raising the retirement age for recipients.

ELIMINATE TAX CAP?

Murkowski said Wednesday that Social Security "faces serious structural problems and is on an unsustainable path."

"Congress must ensure the solvency of the program; however, some concessions must be made," Murkowski said in a written statement.

"I will oppose reducing benefits for anyone currently receiving them, but for younger folks, we must accept that the program has to change in order to keep Social Security solvent," she said.

McAdams, who has been fighting to gain attention in a race against a Sarah Palin-backed Republican and the state's incumbent senior senator, raised Social Security as a campaign issue last week at his Midtown campaign headquarters.

"I will fight any efforts to raise the Social Security age for participation," McAdams told reporters. He said the program paid average monthly benefits of $1,100 to Alaska seniors in 2009 and he pledged to oppose proposals that would threaten the solvency of the program by increasing the federal deficit.

The McAdams campaign has criticized Murkowski's record on the program, pointing for example to a 2004 Project Vote Smart questionnaire in which Murkowski indicated she supported allowing workers to invest a portion of their payroll tax in private accounts.

McAdams mentioned the idea of removing the wage cap on Social Security taxes as one of "a few different solutions we can take a look at" when asked how he would pay for continued benefits.

While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama wrote that removing the wage cap was one possible solution for eliminating the Social Security budget shortfall.


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