- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

Bob Casey Jr., the Pennsylvania state treasurer who is seeking to oust Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, said in a debate yesterday that there is no “crisis” facing Social Security, which most economists agree is headed for collapse unless major changes are made.

“I don’t think you’re talking about a crisis,” the Democrat said during an hourlong debate yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Mr. Casey said the program — raided for years by federal lawmakers to pay for other government programs — will fix itself.

“So [we’ll have] double the people on Social Security and Medicare, and life expectancy approaches 80. And the solution is ‘do nothing’?” moderator Tim Russert asked.

Mr. Casey suggested reinstating the estate tax and then hoping for a booming economy to “grow” the program out of the peril that actuarial tables and demographics predict.

“You want to grow the economy by increasing taxes?” scoffed Mr. Santorum, sitting next to him. “So, he’s saying we have to grow the economy so we’re going to take more out of it. That’s a great way to grow the economy.”

For many years, as the baby-boom generation reached peak earning years, the Social Security program collected more in taxes than it paid out in benefits to the previous generation’s retirees. These surpluses have been used to cover the costs of other government programs since the 1980s.

Projections by such bodies as the Social Security Administration and the Congressional Budget Office differ in their precise years, but there is general agreement that some time around 2020, as the boomers retire and the number of retirees relative to the number of workers skyrockets, the program will become a net drain on the federal treasury, and some time around 2050, it will have exhausted the surpluses built up decades earlier.

But the only crisis related to Social Security, Mr. Casey said, is the plan supported by Mr. Santorum and President Bush to create private Social Security accounts that could no longer be accessed by the federal government.

Mr. Casey also said yesterday that he no longer supports the decision to go to war in Iraq. Last year, he told reporters that he still would have voted in favor of the war resolution.

“The evidence that was presented then … was misleading, and I think it was faulty,” he said.

Asked repeatedly whether he now opposes the war decision, Mr. Casey finally said, “If we knew then what we know now, sure.”

Still, he said, he’s not ready to “abandon this mission” as many of his Democrat colleagues are ready to do.

“I think a lot of Americans are not, either,” Mr. Casey said. “What has to happen in Iraq is what you’ve not seen. We need new leadership; we don’t need a deadline, a timeline.”

Mr. Santorum defended the war as one “front of a multifront war” against Islamist terrorism.

“They don’t care about life, and we do,” he said, chiding Mr. Casey for not offering a concrete plan to combat terrorism. “The real tough questions is, how do you win this war? How do you go out and prosecute a war successfully?”

Mr. Santorum agreed with Mr. Russert’s assessment that “the American people have turned against the war in Iraq” and placed blame for that on President Bush.

“I think because the Bush administration hasn’t laid out the complexity of dealing with this war and how it fits into a broader picture, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” the two-term incumbent said.

After the debate, both sides declared victory.

“The first Senate debate between Bob Casey and Rick Santorum wasn’t even close — Casey won,” said Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Santorum, looking unhinged, offered more of the same, while Bob Casey outlined a new direction and made the case for change. Casey went head to head on Santorum’s home turf and got the better of him.”

Dan Ronayne, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, noted that Mr. Casey had balked at debating Mr. Santorum.

“The expectations were low for Bob Casey Jr. in this debate,” he said. “He had an ankle-high bar to clear, and he tripped over it.”

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