Cicilline flier may mislead elderly on Doherty, Social Security

Congressman David Cicilline’s campaign is defending a document the Democrat is handing out to senior citizens that could mislead them about his Republican opponent Brendan Doherty’s position on Social Security.

“Doherty wants to raise the eligibility age for Social Security benefits for anyone born after 1960,” the flier says, “with no regard for the challenges it would cause for people working in physically demanding occupations.” The one-pager points to Doherty’s March interview on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers as a source.

There’s no dispute about the fact that Doherty favors raising the Social Security eligibility age for those born after 1960. But he was never asked on Newsmakers about the impact on people working in physically demanding occupations, nor does he reference the issue.

Moreover, during the interview Doherty specifically singles out the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan as a good starting point for changes to Social Security – and Simpson-Bowles specifically calls for a so-called “hardship exemption” to allow some retirees to avoid the higher eligibility age.

“The bottom line is that Brendan has consistently referred to the Simpson-Bowles suggestions on Social Security, that plan requires the Social Security Administration to craft a hardship exemption, and any implication otherwise is disingenuous and represents the worst politics has to offer,” Doherty campaign manager Ian Prior told WPRI.com.

Cicilline spokeswoman Nicole Kayner pointed out that the senior handout doesn’t explicitly say Doherty is opposed to a Social Security hardship exemption, and she highlighted the fact that the former state police superintendent didn’t mention the issue. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has criticized Simpson-Bowles’ approach as inadequate.

“Since announcing for Congress, Mr. Doherty has said repeatedly that he wants to raise the Social Security eligibility age for anyone born after 1960; he has not acknowledged the impact this would have on people working in physically demanding jobs like boat building or construction,” Kayner told WPRI.com. Cicilline, unlike Doherty, specifically mentioned the issue on Newsmakers last December.

Prior argued the Democrats are being disingenuous.

“This is not an argument before a federal judge or a congressional committee – this is a pamphlet being handed out to senior citizens who may not be looking to parse through the statement to separate the author’s creative interpretation from actual fact,” he said. “The clear and obvious implication that the Cicilline campaign is trying to make is that, in advocating the continued gradual rise in the Social Security retirement age, Brendan has no concern for people with hardships.”

“This is the exact type of underhanded behavior that is a consistent pattern with Congressman Cicilline,” Prior added. “While it doesn’t rise to the level of ‘Providence is in excellent financial condition,’ this is more of the same misdirection from a campaign whose clear strategy is to mislead voters.”

Hardship exemptions aside, there are clear policy differences between the two candidates on Social Security, which is projected to exhaust its trust fund by 2033 and at that point would need to cut benefits by about 25% without additional revenue from sources other than the payroll tax.

Doherty’s Social Security policy focuses on the program’s benefits – as mentioned above, he would raise the eligibility age for those born after 1960 along the lines proposed by Simpson-Bowles, which would effectively reduce benefits for younger Americans.

Cicilline’s Social Security policy focuses on the program’s revenue side – he co-sponsored legislation to eliminate the cap on payroll taxes, which currently aren’t levied on earnings above $110,100. The bill would also change the cost-of-living estimate used to calculate annual benefit increases and provide supplemental $250 payments during economic downturns.

In addition, Cicilline co-sponsored a resolution saying “appropriate reform to strengthen Social Security’s long-term outlook should happen in a bipartisan fashion … without further increasing the retirement age or otherwise decreasing benefits.”

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