WAUSAU -- Dem U.S. House hopeful Julie Lassa today accused GOP opponent Sean Duffy of flip-flopping on whether he supports privatization of Social Security.
Lassa, a state lawmaker since 1998, told about 100 people during her first debate with Duffy that the Republican supports U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan that calls for allowing private investments of Social Security money, an idea Lassa said she opposed.
Duffy called Ryan’s plan a good “starting point” for reforming federal spending, but said he did not support privatizing Social Security.
“I do support talking about solutions that are going to shore it up,” he said. “I look forward to fighting for Social Security when I get to Washington.”
Duffy, the former district attorney in Ashland County, called Lassa’s attack on him “misleading” and quoted one newspaper criticism of Lassa as “liar, liar, pants on fire.”
The debate at Northcentral Technical College, sponsored by a coalition of human services, aging and disability groups, was not televised and was the first of at least four meetings the two candidates planned before the November election. The next is Oct. 17 on WSAW-TV in Wausau, the campaigns said.
The 7th CD is open for the first time in decades after Democrat Dave Obey, first elected in 1969, announced his retirement last spring. Observers say the race is one of the most competitive and closely watched in the nation.
Wednesday’s crowd included white-haired seniors, disabled people in wheelchairs and some college students.
Lassa, a 39-year-old state senator who grew up on a central Wisconsin dairy farm, called Social Security a significant difference between the candidates.
“My opponent flip-flops on the issue depending on who he is talking to,” she said. “Once my opponent got called on the carpet for his support of Paul Ryan’s budget plan that includes privatization of Social Security, he dropped it like a hot potato and ran the other way.”
Workers have a “contract” for Social Security, and the government has an obligation to fulfill it, Lassa said.
She advocated a halt to borrowing from the Social Security trust fund to pay for other programs, a change that would protect the program through 2040, she said.
Duffy said stopping the raids on Social Security was a great proposal “20 years ago. The trust fund is gone. There’s no more money in it. We are going to pay it back. We got to take tax dollars today and pay back the IOUs.”
The real solution is federal policies that clear the way for “job-creators” to create jobs so more people are working and paying into Social Security, said Duffy, a former reality TV star and competitive lumberjack.
Means testing for Social Security benefits should be explored, at least for future generations, Duffy said.
The candidates also clashed on tax cuts to spur the economy.
Duffy favored extending the so-called Bush tax cuts for all incomes, saying taking more money from “our job-creators at this time” doesn’t make sense.
Lassa said a healthy U.S. economy always has occurred with a “vibrant middle class,” so they should not pay higher taxes. But she said $700 billion could be raised to help pay down the federal debt by taxing wealthy Americans.
“I don’t see Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan getting a tax cut and creating any jobs,” Lassa said.
Duffy said he could support a repeal of the new federal health care reforms -- if the reforms were replaced with something better.
“This reform is not sustainable,” he said. “There is some common sense solutions that should have been included. One of them is tort reform.”
Lassa said new reforms have several good changes, including a 35 percent tax cut to small businesses if they offer health insurance to workers. But she worries about a provision that requires individuals and families to obtain health insurance.
“That piece we have to watch carefully to make sure health insurance is affordable,” she said.