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McCaskill highlights differences with Akin over Social Security, Medicare

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 19, 2012 - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is continuing to reinforce her disagreements with Republican rival, Todd Akin, over how to address the financial issues facing Medicare and Social Security -- the chief federal programs for the elderly.

But when asked Wednesday, she also linked those differences to the current national controversy over GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comments disparaging Americans who don’t pay income taxes.

McCaskill, D-Mo., noted Wednesday that most of those who do not pay income taxes do pay payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

Of those who do not, “a majority are seniors” already on Social Security and Medicare, with little or no other income.

“They’ve paid into Medicare, they’ve paid into Social Security, they’re entitled to those programs,” she said during a conference call with reporters. “Those are contacts that they have made, that they have a right to believe will not be broken.”

“Congressman Akin has made similar type statements,” McCaskill said, “talking about the ‘velvet chains’ of government dependency…”

Such comments by Akin and Romney, she continued, “just show they are out of touch with so many Missourians who have worked hard all their lives, who have retired, and who believed that Social Security would be there for them, and believe that Medicare would be there for them.”

McCaskill’s point during the conference call was to paint Akin as an “extremist” on such issues, citing his campaign statements criticizing both programs.

“He wants to privatize, voucherize” Medicare, she said, and also privatize Social Security.

McCaskill said that the financial problem facing Social Security could be fixed simply by increasing the cap. Now, any income over roughly $110,000 is not subject to the Social Security tax.

"Simply changing the cap,'' she said, "secures (Social Security) for 75 years."

As for Medicare, she advocates means-testing of recipients and incentive programs to encourage health care providers to provide quality care for less money.

McCaskill said she opposed any proposal to increase the eligibility age for either program, now set at 65.

McCaskill was joined by three elderly Missourians who spoke about their reliance on both programs. “Our Social Security checks are the stable backbone of our retirement,” said Twyla Morgan of St. Joseph.

Jim Hagan, a retired teacher and coach in his 70s from Springfield, Mo., recounted the numerous health problems that he and his wife recently have encountered. “We’d be totally bankrupt if we had to pay” for all the surgeries and medical bills, he said. Medicare, said Hagan, “saves lives, including mine.”

McCaskill contends that the GOP approach, as proposed by now-Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, is to allocate a certain annual amount to the elderly and then tell them "now it's your problem'' to find insurance coverage.

Hagan said that most elderly, including himself, wouldn't be able to obtain insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

McCaskill's campaign has focused heavily on Medicare, Social Security and government-backed student loans.

She repeated her earlier condemnation of Akin for his call for the federal government to get out of the student loan business.

McCaskill says that means that only the wealthy will be able to get loans for college because "no bank is going to lend money to a 17-year-old whose family has no money."

Blunt accuses Democrats of 'Mediscare'

Akin’s campaign had yet to respond to requests for comment. But U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters in a separate conference call that many Democrats were using what he calls "Medi-scare" tactics to mislead older voters about the potential impact of the plan advanced by now-Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and which Akin supported in the House.

Ryan initially had proposed a voucher-style program, but most recently has proposed that recipients have a choice of vouchers or the existing program. Ryan has emphasized that his proposals would affect only people under the age of 55, and not current retirees or those 55 or over.

Medi-scare "is really what it is," said Blunt, who wrote an op-ed this week in USA Today accusing Democrats of "scaring voters about Medicare" to score political points before the election.

He wrote, in part: "In an increasingly tight race for the White House and control of Congress, Democrats seem willing to say anything to obtain an advantage on the issue. In doing so, they are misleading voters about the damage they have done to the program, and about Republicans' proposed plans to improve it."

He asserted in the conference call that "the idea that somehow seniors would be disadvantaged by having more choices and more options I think doesn't stand up to scrutiny."

Blunt continued, "We're going to have to look at these three big programs – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- and figure out how to move them into the future, Probably picking on one thing at a time is not the best way to do that. But if the right dozen people can get around a table on any of those issues -- and one of those people has to be somebody representing the president, or the president himself -- all three of these can be secured for the future in ways that they currently are not."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.