Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann spoke with Radio Iowa by phone this afternoon, with Social Security the main topic of conversation. Without naming competitor Rick Perry (although I did in the questions), Bachmann said federal policymakers have to “keep faith” with current Social Security beneficiaries. “That’s wrong for any candidate to make senior citizens believe that they should be nervous about something they have come to count on. We need not do that, but I think at the same time we also outline our positive solutions,” Bachmann said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Now, to the details of our conversation. I began by directly asking Bachmann if she thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and whether she would favor having states run Social Security.
“Let me say first of all I voted against the bill that the president put forward last December that took $111 billion of revenues away from the Social Security Trust Fund this year. That’s the lowering of the payroll tax,” Bachmann said. “We didn’t see one shred of evidence that that created any jobs. Unfortunately what it did was it not only depleted money into the Social Security Trust Fund, it forced the Social Security Trust Fund to dip into the general treasury, which there isn’t any money there. There’s only moths and feathers in the general treasury which meant we had to either borrow that money or else print money to be able to pay for the Social Security checks. That put senior citizens at risk.
“What I think about Social Security is that the United States made a decision 80 years ago about retirement for senior citizens. I do believe that Social Security is in trouble going forward. It needs to be reformed and modified so that we can keep the promise that’s been made to senior citizens. We can’t ask anyone that’s on Social Security right now to change their benefits. We just can’t because people have made their plans. They’ve made their live’s decisions in such a way depending upon what they expected was to be an earned income for the remainder of their life.
“But we also know that going forward Social Security has some very big challenges that need to be addressed and I am willing and able to be able to be up to that challenge to deal with the reforms that need to be made to make Social Security solid. But I do think, again, that the decision has been made. We have Social Security and we need to work within that system.”
So what sort of reforms would she support?
“Well of course that’s an issue that will take quite a bit of time and it won’t take just one person because this an 80-year-growing problem and this is one that will require a bipartisan solution, Republicans and Democrats coming together. It was Republicans and Democrats who both voted to create Social Security and they’ll have to come together to make it solvent,” Bachmann said. “I know we can. We have very smart people in this country who have to deal with pensions all the time. I’m a former federal tax lawyer. I’ve had to deal with the issue of ERISA law and this is something we can bring good people together to make this solvent, actuaries or other people who know how to make this happen and we can. We have to keep the faith with senior citizens, but we also can’t deny the future upcoming generations of young people their right to have a chance, too. We can do this. I have no doubt. We can figure this out, but we need to make sure we keep our promises.”
Bachmann was on Iowa Press late this spring when Paul Ryan was getting flack for his Medicare proposal. At that time, Bachmann said it should be called the “55-and-under plan” because “messaging” was important. My direction question to her was this: “Do you think your party needs to be equally careful in its messaging on Social Security? Using phrases like ‘monstrous lie’ — do you think that is good messaging?”
“I think that it is not good when President Obama, for instance, made the comment — recklessly, in my opinion — that seniors may not get their Social Security checks in August when we were dealing with the debt ceiling debate,” Bachmann said. “That was irresponsible for the president to do that. He created a great deal of fear. In fact, I was in Dexter, Iowa with senior citizens and I was told by them that there were those that had cancelled some of their bills. They had cancelled services into their home like the internet and cable and other services because they thought the president was telling them they weren’t going to get a Social Security check.
“That’s wrong for any candidate to make senior citizens believe that they should be nervous about something they have come to count on. We need not do that. But I think at the same time we also outline our positive solutions. That’s what I’m trying to do and I’m looking forward to doing that, one of which will be to oppose the president’s plan last evening and that was to once again take money, revenues out of the Social Security Trust Fund with his proposal last evening. I think that knowing that we are adding even more Baby Boomers into the Social Security system, we can’t add more people who are going to be pulling on the system without putting revenues in it, so we have to get our house in order.”
My last question was about the retooling of the Bachmann campaign in Iowa. I told her I’ve talked with a few people who voted for her at the Straw Poll, but are now supporters of Rick Perry. “How do you deal with the changed atmosphere here in Iowa and what sort of steps will you take to deal with the new reality of the new competition?”
“Well, there’s always changes when you have new candidates come in. This certainly happened in Iowa the last go around. Fred Thompson came into the race very late. He came in number one, in that he had about 31 percent support. Rudy Giuliani came into the race very late. He also had a very high level of support. People thought that Fred Thompson was going to be the Republican nominee. People thought Rudy Giuliani would be the Republican nominee, but that isn’t who our nominee was.
“I have a very strong level of support in Iowa. I’m very grateful to Iowans for that level of support. People I believe, again, know me and trust me. I will be back again in Iowa this weekend and we have been contacting our supporters across the state and we’ve been holding the line with people who not only are saying that they’re supportive, we’re bringing many, many new people in as well because I have a very strong pro-growth policy,” Bachmann said, then she added the most pointed comments of the interview. “And I’ve demonstrated something that the other candidates haven’t — that’s a level of consistency as a conservative. I never supported the government take-over of health care, but the other two leading candidates have. I did not support the stimulus bill, but we have the other two leading candidates, or at least one that has, and I did not support the bail-out and we have other leading candidates who have, so there is a strong mark of demarcation between us and I think people will find that out in the debates.”
Bachmann plans to be in Ames tomorrow, attending a tailgate party outside the stadium where Iowa and Iowa State will play a football game. “I have something in common with the Iowa State Cyclones. I’ve won in Ames and so have the Cyclones,” Bachmann joked as she rang off, a reference to her Iowa Straw Poll victory in Ames back on August 13, “so I look forward to being there with all my friends.”