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Sunday, October 21, 2012

PolitiFact NH: Kuster recycles Bass attack, still Mostly False

From the day she officially entered the race, congressional candidate Ann McLane Kuster has accused her opponent, U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, of wanting to privatize Social Security.

But in a recent TV ad, she let a supporter do her talking for her. ...

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From the day she officially entered the race, congressional candidate Ann McLane Kuster has accused her opponent, U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, of wanting to privatize Social Security.

But in a recent TV ad, she let a supporter do her talking for her.

“I think Congressman Bass’ idea to privatize Social Security is a devastating idea,” one voter, Janice Kelble, says in the ad, “Janice,” which first aired on New Hampshire airwaves Sept. 6.

“Bass just wants to risk Social Security on the stock market,” suggests Kelble, of Franklin. “Charlie Bass just plain does not understand the middle class.’

PolitiFact has heard these claims before. The attack has been a rallying cry, of sorts, for Democrats since George W. Bush was in office, and candidates are pulling the card once again this election season.

In fact, we checked the same claim from Kuster this summer, rating it Mostly False. But with the charge receiving renewed airtime with the ad, we decided to see if anything has changed.

In June, the Kuster campaign cited a 2001 House vote on then-President Bush’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security as evidence of Bass’ support for privatization.

In December 2001, the 16-member commission issued its final report, which urged Congress to incorporate a system of private accounts for personal investment.

With strong opposition from Democrats, the commission’s recommendations never reached the floor of Congress. But the House did consider a number of resolutions and amendments at the time, including H.AMDT.245, a Democratic-sponsored amendment that would have prohibited any funding of the commission’s recommendations.

Bass joined each of his Republican colleagues at the time in voting against the amendment, which failed 238-188.

But analysts determined both then and now that the vote was more of a pre-emptive strike than a true endorsement of privatization.

“He may have” supported privatization, Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the conservative Cato Institute, said in June.

“Republicans generally did at that point, but this vote was certainly not a vote that could be read that way.”

In both the current ad and past claims, Kuster cites a 2005 news article as further evidence of Bass’ support for privatization. In this story, printed in the Eagle Times of Claremont, Bass offered support for then-President Bush’s plan to introduce a private accounts option for Social Security beneficiaries.

“I support the establishment of private savings accounts because it allows low- and middle-income workers the chance to get ahead,” Bass said, according to the Eagle Times.

As noted in the prior ruling, Bass further clarified his stance that year with a statement issued the night Bush outlined his plan in his State of the Union address.

“I am an advocate of the President’s call for Social Security reform and will work with him in the next two years to save and protect this important program,” Bass wrote at the time, according to the National Journal and Project Vote Smart.

Some analysts argue that Bush’s plan, to allow workers younger than 55 the option of directing up to 4 percent of their payroll taxes into private accounts, is as close to privatization as the debate has reached in recent years.

“Virtually no one has proposed replacing all of Social Security with private accounts,” Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in the initial Kuster piece.

“Given the way the debate has evolved, being for … privatization doesn’t mean you’re for privatizing the whole darn thing.”

But PolitiFact has determined in past rulings that the private accounts option doesn’t meet the standards of full privatization. First, it would be fully optional, and second, beneficiaries could opt to place only a portion of their payroll taxes into private accounts, qualifying as a partial privatization plan, at best.

“To address this financial crisis facing the Social Security program, one such idea Congressman Bass has supported would create a program that would allow individuals to voluntarily place a portion of their money that they currently pay as part of the payroll tax and place it into a personal account,” Bass spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne wrote in a June email to the Telegraph.

“Saying that (Bass) supports ‘privatizing’ Social Security is pure political rhetoric devised by Democratic spin doctors to frighten seniors.”

Our ruling

Little, if anything, has changed since our past ruling on Kuster’s claims about Bass’ support for privatization.

The statements and votes to which the Democrat refers in support of her claim suggest Bass supported a move toward partial privatization, not full privatization as the claim suggests.

Kuster’s claim was Mostly False then, and it continues to be now.