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TRUTH TEST: Buck on Social Security, senators

6:16 AM, Sep 8, 2010   |    comments
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The following is a Truth Test analyzing an ad paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. It describes itself on its website as "the only organization solely dedicated to electing a Democratic Senate." (Source: DSCC website: http://www.dscc.org/about)

The organization openly supports Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) in his campaign against Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R-Colorado). The commercial attacks Buck by using videotapes from two of his public appearances over the last year and a half.

The commercial will run at least 61 times on the networks of 9NEWS at a gross cost of $79,175.

QUOTE: Listen to Ken Buck on Social Security. Ken Buck: "It's fundamentally against what I believe."

TRUTH: It's true that Buck has questioned whether the federal government should run a "retirement" program like Social Security. He thinks the private sector would do better than the government in that area. However, he has described the system as a "sacred promise," to current beneficiaries and that "all ideas should be on the table" to ensure its viability in the future.

Buck's quote comes from a forum sponsored by The Constitutionalist Today newspaper in Colorado Springs on March 9 when he was asked by a panelist whether it is "Constitutional for the government to have a Social Security program where it directs the monies that we put into it?"

Here is Buck's complete answer: "I don't know whether it's Constitutional or not. It is certainly a horrible policy in what happened in the LBJ Administration back in the 60s when they took the money out of the trust fund to fund general fund programs and what we ended up with was a system that will be bankrupt anywhere from 10 to 25 years from now. It is a bad policy. I don't know that the federal government should be involved in a retirement plan. It should be a plan that certainly once people pay into it, they have the expectation of getting a return and they're entitled to that, but the idea the federal government should be running health care or retirement or any of those programs is fundamentally against what I believe and that is that the private sector runs programs like that far better." (Source: Constitutionalist Today Forum, March 9)

QUOTE: He'd put Social Security in the stock market. Billions for Wall Street.

TRUTH: It's hard to label this true or false, but it's most accurate to say, this is possible.

Here's the background on the issue. Buck has said numerous times, including on 9NEWS during a July debate with his Republican primary opponent Jane Norton that "We've got to peg Social Security to individuals so those individuals have the ability perhaps to invest in various funds that are approved by the government. But those individuals also own that fund." (Source: 9NEWS YOUR SHOW Debate, July 22: http://www.9news.com/yourshow/archive.aspx)

Just last week, The Denver Post reported, "For those younger than 45, Buck said he would consider combining some Social Security base benefits with 'self-savings,' which Democrats are likely to argue is a form of privatization. The self-savings might be an automatic IRA, set up and partly funded by the government from part of the Social Security contribution, with mandates or incentives for the worker to add to the account. The plans would offer private Wall Street investments in safer categories." (Source: Denver Post, Sept. 5: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_15996180)

Further, the Wall Street Journal reported last month that "Mr. Buck said he would consider some privatization of Social Security but wanted to be sure needy seniors retain a safety net." (Source: Wall Street Journal, July 26: http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748704746804575367113727207090.html)

Buck prefers to call his idea a form of personalization since he says the money going into Social Security belongs to the people paying into the system and not to the government. Critics call that "privatization."

It's hard to know what investment funds would be approved by the government, but in theory, they could be bond funds that are, in essence, debt agreements with a government that operate outside of the stock market. Other funds outside of the market might include Certificates of Deposit (CDs) or Money Market Savings Accounts. (Source: Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, https://www.tsp.gov/investmentfunds/lfundsheet/fundPerformance_L.shtml.)

Technically, some of those people would still have to pay commission fees to whoever bought the bonds for them and some of them may be associated with Wall Street, but whether that would amount to billions is speculative. If the funds went through the market, financial firms would clearly make a significant amount of money through the billions of stock trades.

Here is more from Buck Press Secretary Owen Loftus on this issue: "Ken is not in favor of privatizing Social Security. Here is Ken's position: For current beneficiaries; the government has made a sacred promise. Current retirees have planned their lives based on these Social Security benefits. For older workers approaching retirement, they have already planned their retirement. We need to ensure that Social Security is solvent for these workers. All ideas should be on the table to ensure this. These can include some sort of means testing, or raising the retirement age to reflect the fact that people live longer than they used to. For younger workers and future generations, the issue isn't Social Security; it's savings. We must ensure that Social Security is there for younger workers when they retire, and that retains its main function as a safety net for retirees. To do this, the government needs to craft policies to encourage younger workers to save more."

QUOTE: Listen to Buck on whether he'd re-write the Constitution and end our right to vote on our own senators. Ken Buck: "The short answer is yes."

TRUTH: This is true, although it could use some context.

At the Pikes Peak Economics Club meeting back in June 2009, Buck was asked a question about the topic: "Would you be in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment and restoring state sovereignty?"

He answered that question this way: "The short answer is yes. The long answer is we need to educate the public about the populist nature of the 17th Amendment and how it has taken us down the wrong path... I don't know that we get there tomorrow but I think we get there in the very near future when people understand what horrendous effect the 17th Amendment has been on federal government spending."

Buck says he called the questioner up the next day to say he'd rethought his answer and changed his position. Buck told the Huffington Post earlier this month: "It is not a position I still hold and it wasn't a position I held a day later when I called back the guy who asked the question and talked to him about the issue and reflected more on it... It doesn't make sense to repeal the 17th Amendment and I have said it a dozen of times." (Source: Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/13/ken-buck-clarifies-positi_n_681777.html)

The 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution was officially ratified April 8, 1913 and called for the direct election of United States Senators by the public. Before that, Senators were selected by state legislatures. (Source: National Archives: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=old&doc=58)

Starting in the mid-19th century, partisan squabbles in state capitals led to states like Indiana and California, in some cases, going two-plus years without a senator in Congress. By 1906, the progressive movement included publisher William Randolph Hearst, who ran a series of articles in Cosmopolitan magazine called "The Treason of the Senate" that, in essence, accused senators of being corrupted by money and influence. (Source: U.S. Senate: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Direct_Election_Senators.htm)

As the Senate history website articulates: "The Seventeenth Amendment restates the first paragraph of Article I, section 3 of the Constitution and provides for the election of senators by replacing the phrase "chosen by the Legislature thereof" with "elected by the people thereof." In addition, it allows the governor or executive authority of each state, if authorized by that state's legislature, to appoint a senator in the event of a vacancy, until a general election occurs." (Source: U.S. Senate: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Direct_Election_Senators.htm)

Interestingly, that final part of the amendment, which allowed governors to select individuals to fill Senate vacancies, is what led to Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colorado) appointing Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) to take the place of Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) when he became Secretary of the Interior.

The 17th Amendment has been debated and discussed by numerous conservatives through the years, who are concerned with the money being spent to elect senators and their subsequently being beholden to those moneyed interests.

"Let me initially note that the 17th amendment has not yet ended the legal but appalling bribery of U.S. senators - it has merely moved it to Washington," wrote conservative commentator Tony Blankley recently in The Huffington Post. "If senators were again selected by state legislatures, the longevity of Senate careers would be tethered to their vigilant defense of their state's interest - rather than to the interest of Washington forces of influence." (Source: Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-blankley/repeal-the-17th-amendment_b_438630.html)

QUOTE: Ending our right to vote. Threatening Social Security. Ken Buck. The more you hear, the more you wonder.

TRUTH: This is an opinion.

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