One of the few presidential candidates to admit that he and his family were grateful for “every penny we got from Social Security” dropped out of the race Monday.
The departure of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., means one less candidate talking about how to preserve retirement security. So far, little discussion has been heard on specific retirement issues of interest to the insurance industry.
A review of the transcripts made available by The American Presidency Project turns up dozens of references to “retirement,” 401(k)s, and entitlement programs, namely Social Security and Medicare.
But one retirement-related noun -- “annuity” -- and the phrase “long-term care” were never mentioned in hours of debate. References to “insurance,” without exception, refer to health insurance, not life insurance.
Meanwhile, a poll conducted on behalf of Schwab Retirement Plan Services in August found that 89 percent of survey respondents gave politicians a “C” or less when it comes to helping Americans save for retirement. Twenty-nine percent gave them an “F.”
Transcript excerpts highlight where individual candidates stand on retirement and insurance-related issues now that the 2015 debates have come to a close. The answers are collected from among the five Republican debates and the three Democratic debates held over the last five months.
The primary debate schedule resumes in January with the Republican field squaring off Jan. 14 in North Charleston, S.C., and the Democratic field on Jan. 17, in Charleston.
On Social Security
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “Now, let me tell you exactly what we would do on Social Security. Yes, we'd raise the retirement age two years, and phase it in over 25 years, that means we'd raise it one month a year for 25 years when we're all living longer, and living better lives.
“Secondly, we would means test Social Security for those who are making over $200,000 dollars a year in retirement income, and have $4 to $5 million dollars in liquid assets saved. They don't need that Social Security check. Social Security is meant to be -- to make sure that no one who's worked hard, and played by the rules, and paid into the system grows old in poverty in America.
“The trust fund is filled with IOU's. We can't fix the problem just by ending Congress's retirement.
“We need to go at the fundamental problem, and the fundamental problem is that this system is broken.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: “Nobody in this country is on Social Security because they made the decision when they were starting work at 14 that they wanted to trust some of their money with the government.
“The government took it out of their check whether they wanted them to or not. And, if a person goes to 65, they're going to spend 51 years with the government reaching into their pocket at every paycheck.
“Now, here's the point, whose fault is it that the system is screwed up? Is it the recipients, or is it the government? And, if Congress wants to mess with the retirement program, why don't we let them start by changing their retirement program, and not have one, instead of talking about getting rid of Social Security and Medicare that was robbed $700 billion dollars to pay for Obamacare.
“One of the reasons that Social Security is in so much trouble is that the only funding stream comes from people who get a wage. The people who get wages is declining dramatically. Most of the income in this country is made by people at the top who get dividends and — and capital gains.
“The Fair Tax transforms the process by which we fund Social Security and Medicare because the money paid in consumption is paid by everybody, including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people that are freeloading off the system now.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: “The age will have to gradually rise, there is no question. It's the only way you fix Medicare, the only way you fix Social Security. You will also have to means-test the benefits and declare there's not enough money.
“It isn't ‘I put money in, I'm getting it back.’ There is no money, it's a stack of paper. There is no money in the Social Security account. There is no money in the Medicare account. There's only a promise to pay by the next generation, and the next generation's not big enough to pay it.”
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: “You have to reform Social Security, and the simple way to do it is to make sure that the wealthiest don't receive the same benefits as people that are lower income.
“And make sure you enhance savings in the private market. The idea of 401(k)s. I have a small business that I set up. It took — it took an arm and a leg to be able to set up a 401(k). Because of all the federal mandates and federal laws, it was too expensive.
Hilary Clinton: “I want to enhance the benefits for the poorest recipients of Social Security. We have a lot of women on Social Security, particularly widowed and single women who didn't make a lot of money during their careers, and they are impoverished, and they need more help from the Social Security system.
“And I will focus on helping those people who need it the most. And of course I'm going to defend Social Security. I'm going to look for ways to try to make sure it's solvent into the future. And we also need to talk about health care at some time, because we agree on the goals, we just disagree on the means.”
Sen. Bernard Sanders: “My view is that when you have millions of seniors in this country trying to get by — and I don't know how they do on $11,000, $12,000, $13,000 a year — you don't cut Social Security, you expand it. And the way you expand it is by lifting the cap on taxable incomes so that you do away with the absurdity of a millionaire paying the same amount into the system as somebody making $118,000. You do that, Social Security is solvent until 2061 and you can expand benefits.”
Ben Carson on creating individual savings accounts: “The plan gives people the option of opting out. But I think they will see a very good option here. You know, the annual Medicare budget is over $600 billion. And there are 48 million people involved — 40 million, 65 and over, and 8 million others.
“Divide that out. That comes out to $12,500 for each one. Now, I can tell you there are a lot of private-sector things that you could do with $12,500, which will get you a lot more than you get from this government program.
“And that's really a theme of a lot of the things that I'm talking about. How do we utilize our intellect rather than allowing the government to use its, quote, ‘intellect,’ in order to help us to be able to live healthier and better lives?
“It was never intended that the government should be in every aspect of our lives. This is a country that is of, for and by the people.”
Carly Fiorina: “I would just say ... this, we've heard a lot of great ideas up here, and I agree with what Sen. Rubio said. Every election we talk about this. Every election we talk about Medicare and Social Security reform. It never happens.”
Sen. Ted Cruz: “What I've said is for seniors we should make no changes whatsoever, for younger workers we should gradually raise the retirement age, we should have benefits grow more slowly, and we should allow them to keep a portion of their taxes in a personal account that they control, and can pass on to their kids.”
Sen. Bernard Sanders: “Medicare for all, single-payer system is the way we should go.
“We don't eliminate Medicare. We expand Medicare to all people. Ultimately, we have got to say as a nation … is health care a right of all people or is it not? I believe it is a right.”
Fiorina: “Look, every time the federal government gets engaged in something it gets worse.
“Companies should, if they want to attract the best workers, provide a good set of benefits. But honestly, if you're a small business owner today you are being crushed. We have 400,000 small businesses forming every year in this country. How great is that? They are employing themselves, they are potentially employing others.
“The bad news is, we have 470,000 going out of business every year. And why? They cite Obamacare.
“I think it's wonderful … that businesses start a 401(k). The point I'm making is this, the federal government should not be in a lot of things.
“There is no Constitutional role for the federal government in setting up — retirement plans. There is no Constitutional role for the federal government to be setting minimum wages ... "
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].