Rick Perry: Politicians need "guts" to talk about Social Security

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Reagan Library Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, in Simi Valley, Calif.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Rick Perry, GOP debate
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Reagan Library, Sept. 7, 2011.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is fine-tuning his position on Social Security ahead of Monday night's Republican debate, writing in a USA Today op-ed that politicians need the "guts" to speak the truth about the popular government retirement program.

"The first step to fixing a problem is honestly admitting there is a problem," Perry writes in the op-ed. "America's goal must be to fix Social Security by making it more financially sound and sustainable for the long term. But Americans deserve a frank and honest discussion of the dire financial challenges facing the nearly 80-year-old program."

Since entering the GOP presidential race last month and surging to the top of the field, Perry has come under fire -- from Democrats and Republicans alike -- for his description of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme."

At least week's Republican debate in California, Perry stood by that characterization, saying it was a "monstrous lie" to suggest Social Security is sustainable in its current state.

In his op-ed today, Perry takes his rhetoric down a notch but suggests other politicians aren't being frank about the state of the program.

When he takes the stage in tonight's debate, which CNN and the Tea Party Express are hosting in Tampa, Perry can expect to take a beating from his GOP opponents on the issue.

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In last week's debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was ready to attack Perry's stance, saying, "Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security but to saving Social Security... Under no circumstances would I ever stay by any measure it's a failure. We've got to keep it working."

The Romney campaign, which has been overshadowed in the past month by Perry's entry into the race, continued to hammer Perry on Social Security after the debate.

"There is no way that the Republican Party can be successful with a nominee who wants to dismantle Social Security," Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said. "Mitt Romney believes that the Republican Party should be known as the party that saved and strengthened Social Security. That's how we're going to win next year against Obama."

The Tampa Tribune reports that the Romney campaign is distributing fliers to GOP primary voters in Florida calling Perry "reckless and wrong on Social Security."

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, another presidential candidate whose campaign has lost steam because of Perry, also plans to jump on the attack, the Washington Examiner reports.

"Bernie Madoff deals with Ponzi schemes, not the grandparents of America," a Bachmann adviser told the Examiner. "Clearly she feels differently about the value of Social Security than Gov. Perry does... She strongly disagrees with his position on that, and it's clearly not something that's going to sit well with the people of Florida and Iowa and South Carolina and many of the early states, where there is a large population of seniors who rely heavily on Social Security."

While the other candidates may think Perry's position on Social Security makes him unelectable, it doesn't appear voters feel that way -- at least for now. A new CNN poll released today shows Perry leading the field of GOP candidate at 30 percent, with Romney coming in second with 18 percent support. As many as 42 percent said Perry has the best chance of beating President Obama in 2012 -- just 26 percent said the same about Romney.