By Alex Roarty
During an interview with a local radio station Monday, Republican Congressional candidate Tom Marino endorsed eliminating or at least cutting Social Security benefits for those not yet using the federal program to keep it financially solvent.
A day later his campaign said the remarks, highlighted in earnest Tuesday by Democratic opponent Chris Carney, were taken out of context and vowed that Marino supported protecting the social program. But Carney’s campaign has pounced on an issue that has particular resonance for voters in the northeast 10th Congressional District.
During the interview, the former U.S. attorney Marino decried the amount of money spent by Republicans during former President George W. Bush’s tenure and Democrats under President Obama, saying “it has to stop.”
Pressed by the host to identify specific spending cuts, the 58-year-old Marino chose Social Security.
“My generation and probably the generation that follows me, we are going to have to step up to the plate and say,” he said. “We are not going to get Social Security,” he said. “But we are going to pay into it to get this debacle squared away. So if I have to sacrifice my Social Security to get it squared away … because we can’t take Social Security away from people that are on it now.
Marino repeatedly emphasized that those adults already receiving benefits won’t see any reductions, and suggested that cutting future benefits for those not yet enrolled in Social Security might be the best way to ensure that, including raising the retirement age.
“My generation is probably going to have to work longer,” he said. “If we get anything it is going to be less. But I will certainly protect with every fiber in my body what the seniors are on now and my generation is going to take the hit.”
Although the 10th District is mostly conservative, it is filled with older, middle-class residents who can lean to the left on some economic issues. The radio host, in fact, alternated between criticizing President Obama’s health care policy and highlighting the fact that he depends on Social Security.
It’s the type of voter Carney has sought to cultivate since running for office in2006 as a culturally conservative, centrist Democrat.
His campaign blasted the comments while emphasizing that the personally wealthy Marino doesn’t understand the social program’s benefits.
“It is absolutely shameful that Tom Marino wants to cut Social Security for those about to begin receiving benefits,” said spokesman Josh Drobnyk. “He wants to eliminate Social Security for families that have been paying into the program for decades and have been counting on it to help pay the bills. Well, it’s easy for Tom Marino to say, considering he earned $281,000 last year and owns two vacation homes in Florida.”
The Marino campaign responded that Carney had taken his remarks out of context and that he is “fully committed to making Social Security solvent for future generations.”
“Yet again, Chris Carney has decided to resort to personal attacks and innuendo rather than talking straight about the issues that are important to the people of the 10th Congressional District,” the candidate said, in a statement. “During a recent radio interview, I was commenting on what may happen to Social Security if nothing is done to fix it. I made it very clear that I will never support any reduction in benefits for people currently on Social Security and am fully committed to making Social Security solvent for future generations.”
He also criticized Carney for supporting the Democratic Party’s health care bill, which he says removes $500 million in Medicare.
Marino’s remarks come at a time when many GOP insiders are reassessing his campaign’s chances. Although some Republicans s wrote his campaign off after surviving a tougher-than-expected primary in May and reporting only $11,000 on hand in July, polls released last week showing him with a double-digit lead raised eyebrows among many GOP officials. Republican sources familiar with polling in the district tell PoliticsPA that Marino, while not beating Carney by more than 10 points, is leading right now.
But his comments Monday could once again deflate expectations because they give the well-funded Carney ample ammunition to use on the campaign trail and, more importantly, in TV ads.