By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Republican Linda McMahon explained Thursday why she hasn’t offered specifics throughout the Connecticut Senate race on how she’d change Social Security and Medicare to keep the programs financially solvent, saying she would be “demagogued” for providing detailed ideas.
When asked during the fourth and final debate between McMahon and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy about what she would do to shore up the two benefits, McMahon acknowledged “there are several things to think about,” but said she has purposely “not offered specifics when I’m on the campaign trail because I’d get demagogued.”
Afterward, McMahon told reporters the media are the ones doing the damagoguing of Medicare and Social Security.
“Thanks to all you all folks in the media, you’re the ones who primarily do it and bash any suggestions that might be made to improve either Social Security, Medicare,” she said.
McMahon said federal lawmakers need to “sit down and put those issues on the table and go through them all and debate them and have the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) score them and to see what economically makes sense and how we’re going to move forward, protecting our benefits and making sure that both Social Security and Medicare are there for the long term,” McMahon said. “To do nothing is irresponsible.”
Senior citizens issues, including Social Security and Medicare, have been a key point of contention in the close race to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.
Murphy has accused McMahon of wanting to “sunset” or phase out Social Security after 10 to 15 years for a review, pointing to taped comments she made to a group of tea party activists earlier this year when she used the word sunset. He has also accused McMahon of supporting proposals to privatize Medicare. McMahon has denied both accusations and repeated on Thursday that she would not support a budget that cuts funding to either program.
Murphy pounced on McMahon’s “demagoguing” comment, accusing the former wrestling executive of admitting she doesn’t want to risk votes by offering up specific ideas to the voters.
“You have an obligation as a candidate to tell people where you stand, even if that wins you some votes and loses you other votes,” he told reporters after the debate. “I thought it was great that Linda McMahon finally admitted that the reason that she’s not telling her positions on issues that she’s worried that people will vote against her.”
Murphy has called for increasing the cap on how much money goes into Social Security by having the wealthiest Americans pay more in Social Security taxes. On Medicare, the 5th Congressional District congressman has said the federal government should continue streamlining the system and reward medical outcomes rather than the number of procedures. If that doesn’t deliver enough savings, he has said there should be means testing for Medicare for the very wealthy.
A new University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant Poll released Thursday shows Murphy has a slight lead over McMahon, with 44 percent of likely voters supporting Murphy, compared to 38 percent who back McMahon. Seventeen percent said they are undecided. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
As in past debates, a lot of the focus was on women’s issues and abortion.
Murphy accused McMahon of not really supporting abortion rights, despite her repeated statements in TV ads and during the hour-long debate that she is a “pro-choice woman.”
Murphy pointed to how McMahon has received support from anti-abortion advocates and her stance on abortion-related issues, including her support of a failed amendment to the federal health care reform law that would have allowed businesses to forgo health insurance coverage for contraception.
He warned that McMahon would support the “anti-woman, tea party agenda” in Washington if she becomes the state’s next senator.
McMahon, who has said the failed federal amendment about contraception was an overreach by the government, reiterated her support for abortion rights and said as a mother and grandmother, she wouldn’t do anything to hurt women and their health care.
Both candidates said they oppose late-term abortions unless the health and life of the mother is at risk, and both said they believe life begins at birth.
The debate was sponsored by the Connecticut Broadcasters Association and aired on a number of stations, both live and tape delay.
Follow Associated Press writer Susan Haigh on Twitter at (at)SusanHaighAP
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)