Thursday, September 23, 2004
Clooney, Davis jab on Social Security
Debate centers on plan to end cap
By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
ERLANGER - Democratic Congressional candidate Nick Clooney says he would favor exploring a tax increase to ensure the long-term financial viability of the Social Security system.
Congressional candidates Geoff Davis (from left), Michael Slider and Nick Clooney after debating Wednesday. The Enquirer/PATRICK REDDY
Clooney raised the bold but potentially politically damaging idea Wednesday during a candidate's forum sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Under the current system, wage earners pay a 6.2 percent Social Security tax up to $87,900 a year. Clooney said U.S. Congress should look at removing the cap so no matter how much someone makes they will continue to pay Social Security taxes.
Clooney, a Bracken County television host, called his suggestion "a revolutionary idea that nobody is talking about."
"We're doing that with Medicare," he said. "People with high income don't like the idea, but it can make the whole system solvent for 75 years."
Republican Geoff Davis of Boone County, who along with Independent candidate Michael Slider of Oldham County also appeared at the forum, wasted little time attacking Clooney and his idea.
"So far in this campaign Mr. Clooney has called for ... eliminating the death tax and today called for increasing payroll taxes," said Justin Brasell, Davis' campaign spokesman.
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"These are irresponsible calls for tax increases that will hurt our economy, hurt job growth and take billions more out of the pockets of hard-working Kentuckians," Brasell said. "(Clooney) showed his liberal stripes today by calling for this huge tax increase."
Brasell, citing figures from the Washington D.C.-based National Center of Policy Analysis, said eliminating the $87,900 cap - which rises each year at the rate of inflation - would cost $461 billion in the first five years. That would constitute the largest tax increase in American history, according to the center.
Bob Doyle, Clooney's Washington-based political adviser, said the Davis campaign is "telling lies" and trying to "distract people" into believing something Clooney is not actually saying.
Clooney is merely raising an idea for discussion, not advocating a tax increase, Doyle said.
"If we are ever going to have a discourse in the future of Social Security, people have to be willing to talk about these sorts of things," Doyle said. "That is far from advocating anything."
Clooney also came out Wednesday in support of Congress' passage Tuesday of the Bush Administration's five-year extension of the middle-income tax cut, including the child tax credit and the tax break for married couples, Doyle said.
During the forum Davis, a business consultant, said he does not support an increase in Social Security tax. He was less specific in directly addressing the question - which was posed by the chamber - on how to shore up the Social Security system, which by some estimates will be insolvent within a generation.
"The best way to keep the Social Security system strong is a healthy economy," Davis said. "Just growing at 1 percent more per year in (Gross Domestic Product) will fully fund the system.
"Let's entertain a national, bi-partisan dialogue of what we want to see the system be in 50 years, remove it from the rancor of anger," he said. "If we work together and have a prosperous economy, this problem will be solved."
Clooney Campaign Manager B.J. Neidhardt said Davis is dishing up platitudes while Clooney is trying to solve problems.
"What you saw today was Nick Clooney being a statesman, an independent voice for Kentucky," Neidhardt said. "He was trying to discuss and solve problems and give people the straight talk they may or may not have wanted to hear. Geoff Davis, true form, threw partisan bombs."
Doyle said Davis has in the past supported privatizing Social Security by allowing wage earners to invest their payroll taxes in the stock market, which Clooney opposes.
Davis said he does not favor privatization, adding his position has been improperly portrayed in the past.
Slider said he would support eventual privatization of Social Security but not until the system is in better financial condition.
Slider said people have become too dependent on Social Security, which he said has grown far larger than the framers of the Constitution ever intended.
"It is the government's job to protect our way of life, not provide for it," Slider said. "That being said, (people) have been paying into this system for years and they expect their check, and rightfully so."
Slider said the system would be in better financial shape if the government would not "raid" it to pay for other programs, including the war in Iraq.
"That money should be kept separate," he said.
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