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House candidates Blum, Vernon clash on preserving Social Security

Eligibility age among issues of contention

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Nearly a quarter of residents in Iowa’s 1st District are age 60 or older, so it should come as no surprise that Social Security has emerged as one of the more contentious issues this campaign season.

Democratic challenger Monica Vernon and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has gone on the attack, telling voters that first-term Republican Rep. Rod Blum wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and has voted to slash benefits.

“If Blum gets his way and raises the retirement age, Iowans will be left with less of what they’ve earned,” says Vernon, a former business owner and former Cedar Rapids City Council member.

“I feel really strongly that a promise is a promise,” she told a Cedar Rapids service club earlier this week. “I feel really strongly that we made promises to the American people about the ages where they will be able to get Social Security. So I want to keep those promises.”

Of course, in 1983 the retirement age for full Social Security benefits was raised from 65 to 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later. It was part of legislation to strengthen Social Security, which was facing a financial crisis.

Social Security isn’t facing an imminent financial threat, but phasing in an increase in the retirement age for full benefits might have to be considered again, Blum said.

That’s not the only change that should be considered, he added. The Dubuque business owner wants a bipartisan solution that provides long-term solvency. Current estimates are that if nothing is done, by 2032 Social Security may be in a bankrupt position.

“If we do nothing, benefits will get cut 35 percent,” Blum said after visiting a Cedar Rapids elementary school Wednesday.

That’s not acceptable to Blum, whose late mother received Social Security benefits for several years.

“To me, it’s personal,” he said.

He believes Congress and the next president need to “take a little bit of this, a little bit of that — Republican ideas and Democratic ideas — and put it together.”

“What specifically? I’m not sure,” Blum said, “but I personally think some of the Democratic ideas are valid.”

However, he has indicated support for changes that could reduce benefits, Vernon said. In a DCCC ad, Blum is shown saying, “The retirement age can be raised.”

He claims that’s taken out of context. He was asked to give examples of what could be done to make Social Security solvent in the future.

“I say we need to debate and discuss these ideas,” Blum said. “One of the ideas mentioned is to gradually raise the retirement age over time for those people who are 55 years and younger. It’s one of the ideas. Not one of the ideas I’m saying I propose.

“She says that’s what I want to do. That’s hogwash,” Blum said.

Later in the same video clip, Blum explains his opposition to means testing — basing benefits on a retiree’s other income and assets.

“No means testing. Profoundly wrong,” he said. “Raising the age? Yes.”

Vernon has also been vague about what she would support.

“We have to come up with some fixes,” she said. “There are all sorts of efficiencies in that system that we can work on. I’ve been looking at it and there are lots of ways to get more dollars into the system without raising the age or without privatizing.”

One idea Vernon has talked about is removing the cap. Workers now pay Social Security taxes on the first $118,000 in income. She would keep that, but then tax income over $250,000.

Vernon says Blum is “bad news for seniors.”

“Blum’s record is clear,” she said. “He’s been trying to distract Iowans from his repeated attacks on the Social Security and Medicare Iowa families and seniors have earned and rely on.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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