LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul said Sunday the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare may need to be raised for future recipients.
But Paul, speaking during the first televised debate of the general election season with Democratic opponent Jack Conway, said he doesn’t want to change those benefits for older people already receiving them. The debate was aired on “Fox News Sunday.”
“But we do have to admit that we have the baby boom generation getting ready to retire, and we’re going to double the amount of retirees,” Paul said. “And to put our head in the sand and just say we’re just going to keep borrowing more money is not going to work. There will have to be changes for the younger generation.”
Major issues of the race thus far have been spending, taxes and the size of government.
Paul is a favorite of the tea party with his positions for smaller government and a balanced budget. Conway, the state’s attorney general, has also appealed to conservatives, describing himself as a fiscally responsible Democrat who understands why voters are frustrated about rising federal spending.
Paul and Republican leaders have tried to paint Conway as a clone of the Obama administration.
Conway said Sunday that he would have supported “some” of President Barack Obama’s initiatives, including the health care overhaul. He said he would have voted against a $700 billion bailout program for troubled financial institutions that was started under President George W. Bush, a Republican.
“There was not enough accountability in them,” he said. “We had people getting bonuses after getting the bailouts.”
The two candidates clashed over the health care reforms, which Paul has ardently opposed.
“I’d like to fix health care,” Conway said. “He’d like to repeal it.”
Conway said hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians will get health coverage for the first time thanks to the landmark overhaul, and he personalized the issue through a friend’s struggle to get health coverage.
“I have a friend who’s had a kidney transplant (who) tells me how hard it is to get coverage with a pre-existing condition,” Conway said.
Paul has made Obama as much his opponent as Conway, and said Sunday the election was really about the president’s agenda.
“I think his agenda is wrong for America,” Paul said. “I will stand up against President Obama’s agenda. I think that’s what the people of Kentucky want.”
Conway, however, hammered Paul for previous remarks he’s made — including comments that drugs weren’t a pressing issue in Kentucky and criticism of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“That’s a real clear choice,” Conway said.
Paul downplayed the job-creating benefits of the federal stimulus. He said the new debt attributed to the stimulus is “threatening the very foundations of our economy.”
“Where does the money come from?” Paul asked. “Jack acts like the money’s for free, just go and get it from Santa Claus in Washington. The money is not for free. The money has to be borrowed.”
Paul tried to link Conway to cap-and-trade legislation, which would set limits on carbon dioxide pollution but allow companies to pollute more by paying for it and buying pollution credits from cleaner companies. He said the plan would hurt Kentucky’s coal industry.
Conway responded that he has consistently opposed cap-and-trade legislation, saying “I’m always going to protect coal and I’m always going to protect (low) electricity” rates.”
Conway also insisted that he has steadfastly supported tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush, and said the lower tax rates should be extended.
“With 10 percent unemployment, with capital frozen on the sidelines, it’s no time to be raising taxes,” Conway said.
Paul, who supports extending the tax cuts, said he supports finding spending cuts to offset the lost revenue.