Social Security focus of race
8th District candidates present opposing plans
By Robert Cloud
When Tom Nelson, the Democratic candidate for Congress, came to Waupaca Sept. 15, his comments focused on Social Security.
He called Social Security the defining issue in this year’s race for Wisconsin 8th Congressional District seat.
Nelson described an experience that “goes to the heart of who I am,” regarding the federal program that provides universal retirement benefits.
Shortly after moving into a nursing home, Nelson’s grandfather talked with him about Social Security.
“Promise me you will do all you can to save, protect and strengthen Social Security,” Nelson said, quoting his grandfather. “He was over 90 years old. All he had, besides family, was Social Security.”
Noting that the current poverty rate in the United States is 15 percent, Nelson said that without Social Security, the poverty rate would be 22 percent.
Nelson contrasted his positions on Social Security with those of his opponent, Republican Mike Gallagher.
He said 100 percent of the income of a family making $45,000 per year is assessed for Social Security. Only 18 percent of the income of a family making $1 million per year is assessed.
Social Security is supported by a 7.65 percent tax on earned income up to $118,500. All income above that wage base is not taxed for Social Security.
Nelson proposes to strengthen Social Security by raising the wage base so that wealthy people are paying a share of their income closer to what middle class families pay.
“My opponent wants to go in the opposite direction. He’s talking about reducing benefits to the poverty line,” Nelson said.
Nelson said Gallagher has also talked about using a chained CPI index and raising the retirement age.
He believes Gallagher’s proposals would systematically dismantle the Social Security program and eventually eliminate it.
Gallagher has accused Nelson of lying about his proposals.
The Republican points to an independent fact check organization that said Nelson’s TV ad on this issue is false.
“In the ad, Gallagher is heard discussing a proposal by Andrew Biggs, a Republican Social Security expert who proposes to increase benefit levels for seniors whose benefits fall below the poverty line, while gradually phasing in – over 40 years or so – a reduction in benefit levels for higher-income beneficiaries,” according to Factcheck.org. “Eventually, that would provide the same flat benefit for all and restore the financially unstable program to long-term solvency.”
Factcheck.org says the ad is false because it implies that current Social Security beneficiaries would be affected by the change.
Biggs proposal would only lower benefits to the poverty level for two-thirds of future recipients, not current retirees.
Nelson responded to questions from the Waupaca County Post about his claims regarding Gallagher’s Social Security proposals by pointing to an audio recording of Gallagher speaking at a July 9 candidates forum for the Wisconsin Conservative Coalition.
In the recording, Gallagher says his two-part plan would, “be like a thrift savings plan where your employer matches your contributions, and it’s what people who work for the federal government get to have access to but the rest of us don’t. And the other would be a flat universal payment to everyone at the poverty line to bring the program back to its original limits.”
“My opponent has spent months on the campaign trail describing his reckless plan to cut Social Security,” Nelson said. “Whether it’s his plan to cut the monthly benefit to the poverty line, reducing benefits by changing the cost of living adjustment, or raising the retirement age, it is clear that Mike Gallagher is not on the side of Wisconsin’s middle class.”
Nelson’s campaign has also released audio from in an interview in June.
“So you do chained CPI, you adjust cost of living adjustments, you gradually raise retirement age to keep up with longer living standards, and then you possibly consider more radical proposals for people my age and younger,” Gallagher said.
Nelson also took issue with one of Gallagher’s ads attacking him for voting against repealing state taxes on Social Security benefits.
Nelson said he, along with every member of the Assembly, voted in 2005 in favor of a budget amendment that would repeal Wisconsin taxes on Social Security benefits.
“I voted against the state budget because of it cut funding for education,” Nelson said.
Then Gov. Jim Doyle originally proposed a state budget that increased school funding by $938 million over the next two years.
The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee reduced the increase to $458 million.
Democrats argued that the amended increase would leave Wisconsin’s schools underfunded.
The state budget passed in June 2005 by a vote of 56 to 40.
Nelson was a member of the Wisconsin Assembly from 2005-11. He served as Assembly Majority Leader in 2008.
In 2010, Nelson ran for lieutenant governor as Democrat Tom Barret’s running mate.
In 2011, Nelson defeated former Republican State Treasurer Jack Voight for Outagamie County county executive.