Rick Perry's Double Talk on Social Security and the Constitution

This Texan ain't shooting straight on the most popular government program of all.

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This we know: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the apparent GOP 2012 front-runner, doesn’t like Social Security.

[ Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

He has, for example, described it in his recent book as not only a “Ponzi scheme,” but “ by far the best example” of a program “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles,” and as having been put in place “ at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.” Elsewhere he has said that the Constitution’s “ general welfare” clause does not cover Social Security and Medicare. In other words not only is Social Security bad policy, Perry believes, but actually in defiance of our founding principles in general and the Constitution in particular.

While he and his campaign had appeared to dance away from these characterizations, Perry was at it again in Iowa over the weekend, calling the program a “monstrous lie,” and saying that he stood by everything in his book (including, presumably, Social Security’s unconstitutionality).

So here’s what I want to know: What would President Rick Perry do about Social Security?

[ Read: Can Perry, Bachmann, or Romney Save the Toxic GOP Brand?]

It’s one thing to note that Perry makes crazy comments. As Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen notes, “Perry is positioning himself well outside the American mainstream. It’s going to impress the Republican Party’s far-right base, but it won’t impress anyone else.”

But there is a necessary connection between views and policies. What would Perry’s policy toward Social Security be in the White House?

As it happens, he answered that question, in part, during his Iowa campaign swing. This from the Houston Chronicle:

He told the Ottumwa crowd that for people who are drawing Social Security or near eligibility "like me," he wasn't proposing a change in the program. But he said there should be a national conversation about potential changes for others, including raising the age of eligibility and establishing a threshold based on a person's means.

"Does Warren Buffett need to get Social Security? Maybe not," he said.

Huh? Let me see if I understand this. Social Security “violently tossed aside any respect for our founding principles,” and was instituted at the “expense of respect for the Constitution.” And his solution to these problems is … means testing? And a national conversation about entitlement reform?

Those responses seem awfully conventional for a pol who is so self-consciously talking such a big, radical game about one of the nation’s beloved government programs. Either he’s tossing cow chips when he decries the program, or has something else under his hat when he spouts mealy-mouthed solutions to what he sees as its problems. But either way, this Texan ain’t shooting straight.

[ Read: Rick Perry's Texas Benefited From 'Washington Overspending.']

Reporters should press Perry on Social Security—does he really believe the program is unconstitutional? If so, doesn’t he have an obligation to defend the Constitution by ending the illegal program (including for people drawing it or nearing eligibility)? And if not, what exactly does he mean when he says that the program violently tosses aside respect for the Constitution? And if it is constitutional, what is its constitutional basis, if not the general welfare clause?

If that all seems a bit much, maybe the moderator of the next GOP debate can boil it down simply: “Raise your hand if you think Social Security is unconstitutional.”