Yes, yes – you might want to sit down for this. Mary Landrieu’s ad doesn’t impress the people from FactCheck.org as being particularly honest.
The ad, which for some reason the Landrieu campaign has not put out on YouTube, stars an aging electrician named Mike Nauck, who gives us a sob story about Social Security…
Mike Nauck: Being an electrician is a hard job for someone my age. I’ve had a spinal fusion and had burns on 40 percent of my body. I’m retiring soon and I’ll need Social Security. But Bill Cassidy voted in Congress to raise the retirement age to 70. And cut benefits to pay for a tax break for millionaires like himself. Someone like me can’t work that long.
Mary Landrieu: I’m Mary Landrieu and I approve this message because no retiree should suffer to pay for a millionaire’s tax cut.
FactCheck.org isn’t impressed in the least.
The claims that Cassidy voted to raise the retirement age and cut Social Security benefits are accurate. But his votes did not cut benefits to pay for tax cuts, and the gradual increase in the retirement age would not apply to Nauck or anyone “retiring soon.”
Both claims refer to Cassidy’s votes over the years for the Republican Study Committee’s budget resolutions, most recently for fiscal year 2015. The RSC’s conservative budget blueprint was offered by Rep. Rob Woodall of Georgia as an amendment to the budget resolution supported by House Republican leaders and drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Woodall’s amendment failed on April 10.
The first thing to know is this: Budget resolutions are nonbinding. They provide guidance to Congress as it drafts annual spending bills, but they do not carry the force of law. The policy changes recommended in budget resolutions cannot become law without separate legislation passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the president.
Now, let’s look at the claim that Cassidy voted to “cut [Social Security] benefits to pay for a tax break for millionaires like himself.”
It is true that the RSC budget resolution for fiscal 2015 would have reduced Social Security benefits by changing the method of calculating cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age.
The RSC proposed switching to the so-called chained consumer price index, or chained CPI, which, as we wrote, would produce slightly smaller cost-of-living increases for retirees on Social Security. (President Obama proposed the same thing in his budget for fiscal year 2014, but he dropped it in his budget proposal this year.)
However, the savings would not go “to pay for a millionaire’s tax cut,” as Landrieu says in the ad. The slower rate of spending from the Social Security trust funds would prolong the life of the funds and improve the program’s finances.
The Landrieu campaign says in a backup document to support its claim that the policy language of the Woodall amendment makes “no proposal to reinvest [Social Security] savings into the [Social Security] Trust Fund.” That’s not so. The amendment calls on Congress “to make Social Security sustainably solvent” and says the budget resolution “assumes these reforms will contain the following” two things: “a more accurate measure for calculating cost of living adjustments,” and an increase in the retirement age (which we will explore in depth later). The details would be worked out in the legislation that would be needed to implement such changes.
And a little more…
Nauck also says in the ad: “I’m retiring soon and I’ll need Social Security. But Bill Cassidy voted in Congress to raise the retirement age to 70. … Someone like me can’t work that long.”
It would be accurate to say that Cassidy supports raising the age for receiving full Social Security benefits from 67 years old to 70 years old. But it’s misleading to suggest that the RSC’s proposal would affect workers who are “retiring soon.”
Currently, workers born between 1943 and 1954 can retire with full Social Security benefits at age 66. Those born in 1955 or later must wait till age 67 to retire if they want to collect full benefits. The law gradually increasing the age from 65 years old to 67 years old for full retirement benefits was enacted in 1983 with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
The RSC plan would continue the gradual increase in the full retirement age beyond 67 years old by two months per year, beginning with those born in 1962. “Under this plan, for individuals born in 1962 the [full] retirement age will be 67 years and two months,” the RSC budget says. “The full retirement age will reach 70 for individuals born in 1979 or later.”
So, when Nauck says “someone like me can’t work that long,” meaning to 70 years old, he is really talking about a person born in 1979 who will turn 35 years old this year. He is not talking about someone who is “retiring soon,” although that point may be lost on viewers.
Also, Nauck doesn’t make it clear but workers would not have to wait till 70 years old to retire under the RSC plan.
Currently, workers can retire at age 62, but not with full Social Security benefits. Those born before 1955 receive 75 percent of full benefits at age 62, and those born in 1955 or later receive 70 percent of benefits at age 62. The early retirement age would not change under the RSC plan, so future retirees would still be able to retire at 62. But their benefits would be reduced. How much they would receive in benefits would depend on how the law is written, RSC spokesman Martin Wattenbarger told us in an email.
“Under the RSC proposal, the early retirement age is assumed to stay at 62, but any early retirement benefit adjustment would have to be specified in legislation enacting the reform,” Wattenbarger wrote.
We take no position on the merits of the RSC’s proposed changes to Social Security. And, as we said, it would be accurate to say that Cassidy voted to support Social Security changes that would reduce benefits and increase the retirement age. But this ad goes too far when it says that the cuts in benefits would go “to pay for a millionaire’s tax cut,” and it leaves the false impression that those “retiring soon” would not be able to retire until they are 70 years old.
In other words, it took Mary Landrieu 30 seconds to put out an ad so completely false that it takes a thousand words to fully debunk it.
Cassidy can always go back to being a doctor. Landrieu can either be a senator or a lobbyist and that’s pretty much it. No wonder she’ll say just about anything to get elected.