Fiscal matters focus of third Senate forum

BEDFORD – U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu said Monday he has the guts to offer a way for Social Security to become solvent in the future while his opponent, Democratic hopeful Jeanne Shaheen, has no solution.

“I am willing to provide leadership and am at least willing to put an option on the table. My opponent’s plan looks like this,” Sununu said holding his thumb and index finger to make a circular form.

“Zero. She is not willing to provide leadership.”

Shaheen said Social Security is not in crisis, she won’t support any reform plan until Congress stops borrowing from the trust fund to make other spending outlays and Sununu’s proposal would blow the federal budget deficit still higher by at least $1 trillion.

“We ought to be scared by what John Sununu is proposing because what he is suggesting would cost $1 trillion to $3 trillion,” Shaheen declared.

“John Sununu isn’t being honest with us. He has two choices to fund his retirement scheme. Either he is going to raise Social Security taxes or he is going to lower benefits. Those are the only two choices.”This exchange proved to be the highlight of this third forum between the candidates at the CR Sparks Event Center, sponsored by the state chapter of the AARP.

Sununu’s plan would let younger workers invest some of their Social Security tax payments in private investment accounts. Social Security analysts have concluded it would not bankrupt the system because it calls for the federal treasury to make up for any operating deficit.

The Center for a Budget and Policy Priorities has concluded it would cost the federal treasury an estimated $79 trillion over the next 75 years.

Stephen Gorin is a health-care analyst who supports Shaheen in this election.

“Senator Sununu couches it as a choice plan but the fact is all taxpayers will have to foot the bill to cover the cost of the privatization whether they are in the program or not,” Gorin said.

Shaheen refused to say if she would support keeping other Social Security reform options alive such as to increase the retirement age or subject earnings above $102,000 a year to the Social Security tax.

On other financial security issues, both had concerns about adopting a federal law to require a payroll deduction that would be used to finance a savings program for all employees.

Sununu said he would oppose it as a mandate but would prefer to give all workers the right to “opt out” of such a system.

Shaheen said she would not support it unless the federal government agreed to cover the cost of paperwork facing small business owners.

On the federal bailout, Shaheen said her opposition was grounded on the fact it lacked enough taxpayer protections and cost $850 billion without enough offsets to lower that cost.

“I supported a lot of things in the bailout bill. But our disagreement is that I didn’t think that was the place to pass it. They weren’t paid for,” Shaheen said before criticizing Sununu directly.

“He talks about being a fiscal conservative but those costs were not paid for in that bill.”

Sununu said the bailout included some meaningful changes such as eliminating the alternative minimum tax for 25 million, middle-class Americans.

And he used the occasion to slam Shaheen’s support for raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 by canceling that part of the Bush tax cuts.

“This is the kind of Washington double speak,” Sununu said.

“We shouldn’t raise taxes on someone just to pay for a tax increase that wasn’t intended to happen in the first place.”

But Shaheen said it was Sununu who voted to put off making these changes to the AMT until it faced a crisis.

“I am not the one who has been in Washington for the last 10 years,” Shaheen added.

“I think the only Washington double speak there was John Sununu.”