Perry, Romney make by-the-book quests for White House

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 23, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Yes, Rick Perry says in his book that "by any measure, Social Security is a failure."

And the paperback version of Mitt Romney's book eliminates a line from the hardcover version that says of the Massachusetts health care plan, "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country."

Suddenly, campaign books matter.

Perry, the governor of Texas, wrote "Fed Up!" while Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, wrote "No Apology." The books have become prominent ammunition in the Republican duel for the presidential nomination, as the GOP's two front-runners used each other's words as weapons during Thursday's debate.

The battle of the books is unusual in a presidential primary campaign.

Politicians traditionally use such tomes to add intellectual heft, detail their biographies to a public that barely knows them, and lay out their philosophies and promises.

But get too specific, and it could be trouble.

"Perry does say some things about Social Security that are harmful to him," said Bruce Buchanan, professor of government at the University of Texas. "He's going to have to literally renounce some of those views to be credible with a lot of people."

Romney, on the other hand, has been criticized sharply by some conservatives for his health care views. As governor, he signed into law the Massachusetts health care plan considered a model for the 2010 federal health care law that Republicans loathe. Romney explains today that each state should be free to craft its own health care plan, but imposing federal standards is misguided.

Perry on Thursday charged that Romney said his health care plan "was exactly what the American people needed, to have that Romneycare given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out."

"I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did," Romney said.

In the hardcover version of his book, Romney wrote, "From now on, no one in Massachusetts has to worry about losing his or her health insurance if there is a job change or a loss in income; everyone is insured and pays only what he or she can afford.

"It's portable, affordable health insurance — something people have been talking about for decades. We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care."

In the paperback edition, the words "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in this country" are gone, and the book says: "And it was done without letting government take over health care."

Romney told CNN that he removed the line because the paperback version was updated and came out after the federal health care plan became law in March 2010. His campaign maintains that he is consistent; the opposition to having government take over health care remains in both versions.

Social Security, though, has been the more incendiary issue at this month's three Republican debates.

Romney on Thursday charged Perry, who has toned down some of his criticism of Social Security lately, of "retreating" from "Fed Up's" harsher views.

"Not an inch, sir," Perry insisted.

"Yeah, well, in that book, it says that Social Security was forced on the American people," Romney shot back. "It says that by any measure, Social Security was a failure."

Perry reiterated Thursday that current retirees, and those about to retire, "don't have anything in the world to worry about," citing a "solemn oath" the program will be there for them.

But Social Security faces financial trouble in the years ahead, and Perry maintains the system is badly broken.

Some examples from "Fed Up!"

  • "Social Security is something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now ...and there stands a crumbling monument to the New Deal, in stark contrast to the mythical notion of salvation to which it has wrongly been attached for too long, all at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government."
  • "Ponzi schemes — like the one that sent (convicted swindler) Bernard Madoff to prison — are illegal in this country for a reason. They are fraudulent systems designed to take in a lot of money at the front and pay out none at the end. This unsustainable fiscal insanity is the true legacy of Social Security and the New Deal."
  • "Deceptive accounting has hoodwinked the American public into thinking that SS is a retirement system and financially sound, when clearly it is not.'
  • "By any measure, Social Security is a failure. ... Now, if you say Social Security is a failure, as I have just done, you will inherit the wind of political scorn."
Social Security does face a financial crisis in the years ahead. In its 2011 report, the system's trustees said it would be insolvent by 2036. Last year, for the first time since 1983, Social Security ran a deficit, excluding interest income, and it's expected to do so again this year.

Romney lists four possible ways to repair the system "from a mathematical perspective."

He rejects one of them — raising the Social Security tax rate, or taxing more of an individual's income.

Romney is more sympathetic to gradually raising the retirement age, changing the benefit calculation for higher-income people or allowing people to direct part of their payroll tax to a private account.

He notes that critics point to the shaky stock market as evidence such accounts are too volatile.

No, says Romney, the market gyrations are "evidence that such a system would have to be phased in over time so that the market's inevitable ups and downs — by far more ups than downs over a lifetime — do not endanger a secure retirement."

ON THE WEB

Social Security facts and figures

House Republican budget plan

Securities and Exchange Commission on Ponzi schemes

Social Security history

Romney economic plan

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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