Perry and Romney trade jabs on Social Security

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, gestures as Texas Gov. Rick Perry watches during a Republican debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) Mike Carlson

The top contenders for the Republican nomination for president came out of the gate swinging at each other Monday over the future of Social Security in a televised debate sponsored by the Tea Party Express.

Texas Governor Rick Perry softened his comments from a week earlier in California when he called the retirement program established in the wake of the Great Depression "a monstrous lie" to young people.

On Monday at the Florida debate, Perry called the Social Security system broken, but he said emphatically that anyone now receiving benefits or nearing retirement age would not have those checks curtailed.

"Slam dunk guarantee," Perry said, "that program is going to be there in place" for current retirees, adding it would be in place for "those individuals who are moving towards being on Social Security, that program's going to be there for them when they arrive there."

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Asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer about Perry's position and how it might play in the general election against President Obama, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reminded viewers that Perry had called the Social Security program unconstitutional.

"The real question is does Governor Perry continue to believe that Social Security should not be a federal program, that it's unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states or is he going to retreat from that view?" Romney said.

Perry said the United States needs to "have a conversation" about changing the way Social Security is financed for the future.

"We're having that right now, governor. We're running for president," Romney shot back.

Florida has the nation's largest proportion of elderly voters and is a critical state in the nominating process.

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    CBSNews.com Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.

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