Reality Check: Johnson, Feingold spar on Social Security

Reality Check: Johnson, Feingold spar on Social Security

The candidates for U.S. Senate are now sparring over Social Security and who is standing up for seniors.

In competing ads, Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson are focusing on benefits for seniors and who has done more to undermine them.

“Keep them working, that’s Sen. Ron Johnson’s plan for seniors,” the announcer in a Russ Feingold ad says. “He supports privatizing Social Security and wants to raise the retirement age so seniors have to keep working until they’re 70.”

News 3 finds this needs clarification.

We’ve looked at this issue before in the 2010 Senate race.

Back then, News 3 cited a Johnson quote from a Wispolitics luncheon.

“I’m willing to look at all the options, they all have to be on the table and it’s going to require a bipartisan approach,” Johnson said.

In 2010, Johnson’s campaign said that he would not support “mandatory privatization, but is willing to look at other possibilities.”

Johnson then told Wispolitics in 2011 that things like testing and raising the retirement age should be on the table, shielding those 55 years and older from any changes.

Since then, he talked to voters in Prentice about efforts by President George W. Bush to privatize Social Security.

“George Bush tried to do that and he got slaughtered politically,” Johnson said. “It went nowhere, which I thought was a shame.”

Johnson’s campaign won’t say specifically now whether he’d support privatization, instead saying he’ll “consider any serious proposal” on the issue.

“He also has a plan for Medicare,” the Feingold ad continues. “Turn it into a voucher program and add means testing so seniors pay more out of pocket or are left without coverage altogether.”

News 3 finds this also needs clarification. The plan isn’t Johnson’s — it’s Paul Ryan’s. But Johnson voted for Ryan’s plan that would give seniors a voucher or a “premium support” to buy private insurance as part of a 2013 budget amendment that didn’t become law.

Johnson is making claims about Feingold’s record on Social Security as well.

“Russ Feingold claims he’s for seniors, but he voted to increase taxes on Social Security benefits,” Johnson’s ad says.

News 3 finds this is true.

When Feingold was in the Senate, he voted for this as part of a massive budget plan in 1993. It did increase taxes on Social Security benefits, but only for those with higher incomes. At the time, it affected about 11 percent of beneficiaries. But because Congress hasn’t changed the level of income for who owes taxes since 1993, about half of those on social security pay this tax on their benefits.

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