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Perry Doubles Down: Social Security Is a "Ponzi Scheme"

12:23 PM, Aug 29, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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The Wall Street Journal reports that Rick Perry, while campaigning in Iowa over the weekend, called Social Security a "Ponzi Scheme":

If this weekend showed one thing (hurricanes aside), it’s that Texas Gov. Rick Perry will continue to be Rick Perry.

The governor again called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” Saturday during a campaign stop in Ottumwa, Iowa. It’s not a new line for Mr. Perry — he used the same description in his 2010 book, “Fed Up!” But it’s one his campaign previously told The Wall Street Journal he may avoid now that he’s running for president.

“It is a Ponzi scheme for these young people. The idea that they’re working and paying into Social Security today, that the current program is going to be there for them, is a lie,” Mr. Perry told the crowd . He added during a later stop in Des Moines, “I haven’t backed off anything in my book. So read the book again and get it right.”

In print, Mr. Perry suggested the New Deal-era entitlement program was unconstitutional when he said it was created “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”

His communications director, Ray Sullivan, backed off the description in an interview earlier this month. The book “is a look back, not a path forward,” Mr. Sullivan told the Journal.

The Democratic National Committee emailed reporters three different stories reporting Perry's "Ponzi scheme" remark this weekend, so Democrats clearly think Perry's statement could hurt him with seniors in a general election. Who knows if Perry would successfully fend off this line of attack, but it's worth noting that the attack wasn't very effective against one candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010. Ron Johnson had called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" but rather than completely backing down, he produced this ad: 

"Guess what's coming in Russ Feingold's negative campaign? He's going to tell you I said, 'Washington treats Social Security as a Ponzi scheme.' You know what? I did say that. Because it's true. Russ Feingold and politicians both parties raided the Social Security trust fund of trillions and left seniors an IOU. They spent the money. It's gone. I'll fight to keep every nickel of Social Security for retirees. And I'll respect you enough to tell you the truth."  

Johnson went on to beat Russ Feingold 52 percent to 47 percent in Wisconsin. So calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" isn't necessarily toxic for a candidate. Then again, Democrats will also be attacking Perry for suggesting that Social Security was unconstitutional. But this weekend he denied that he has ever said any such thing. Via Politico, Radio Iowa reports:

Another reporter pressed the issue, asking if Perry believes Medicare is “unconstitutional” as well. “I never said it was unconstitutional,” Perry said. “I look at Medicare just like I look at Social Security. They’re programs that aren’t working and we ought to have a national conversation about it. You know, those that have said I’ve said they’re unconstitutional — I’m going to have them read the book. That’s not what I said.” In his book, Perry called Social Security something akin to a “bad disease” that was created “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”

Perry's right that he never directly called Social Security unconstitutional, but he did seem to suggest in his book that, at the very least, the entitlement programs violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution.

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