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Timeline: Rick Perry’s Shifting Positions On The Constitutionality Of Medicare and Social Security

By Ian Millhiser  

"Timeline: Rick Perry’s Shifting Positions On The Constitutionality Of Medicare and Social Security"

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Poor Rick Perry. Just nine months ago, he published a book arguing that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, only to learn that opposing the nation’s two most popular and successful federal programs doesn’t inspire very much confidence in your fitness for the White House. Ever since the Perry campaign learned this hard lesson, they have been tripping over themselves to distance the candidate from his own most radical views without painting him as flip-flopper. It isn’t going so well.

For anyone who is having trouble keeping track of whether Rick Perry will admit that he thinks Medicare and Social Security are unconstitutional this week, ThinkProgress is pleased to provide this handy timeline. And if you don’t like Perry’s most recent answer, don’t worry! Just wait a few days and he is certain to say something completely different.

  • Nov. 6, 2010: In an interview on CNN, Perry proposes letting states opt their citizens out of Social Security. This proposal is economically impossible to implement, because workers who are too young to receive Social Security benefits would move to an opt-out state to avoid paying Social Security taxes — and then promptly move to a state with Social Security benefits the moment they became eligible. Eventually, the entire system would collapse under the weight of too many Social Security beneficiaries who had not paid into the system.
  • Nov. 15, 2010: Perry publishes Fed Up!, his manifesto against letting the federal government do pretty much anything other than invade foreign nations and maybe deliver the mail. Fed Up! attacks Supreme Court cases permitting “federal laws regulating the environment, regulating guns, protecting civil rights, establishing the massive programs and Medicare and Medicaid, creating national minimum wage laws, [and] establishing national labor laws,” and it argues that we have Social Security “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”
  • Aug. 12, 2011: The Daily Beast publishes an interview with Perry from shortly after he released his book. In it, Perry reiterates his view that Medicare and Social Security violate the Constitution. “I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term ‘general welfare’ in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address.”
  • Aug. 13, 2011: Perry announces that he is running for president. His campaign announcement echoes a central theme of Fed Up!, that Perry is on a mission to set America “free from the shackles of overbearing federal government.”
  • Aug. 14, 2011: At his very first campaign stop in Iowa, Perry is asked how he would handle entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare if elected president. Perry responds, “Have you read my book, ‘Fed Up!’ Get a copy and read it.”
  • Aug. 15, 2011: Perry cites Fed Up! again on the campaign trail, this time pointing to the book’s harsh stance on federal education programs. “I don’t think the federal government has a role in your children’s education.”
  • Aug. 18, 2011: Angry protestors confront Perry at a campaign stop in a New Hampshire restaurant with chants of “hands off Social Security and Medicare!” When a voter reminds Perry that he “said Social Security is unconstitutional,” Perry refuses to respond. Instead, he stuffs a large piece of popover — a hollow egg batter roll similar to a Yorkshire pudding — into his mouth and insists that he can’t answer because “I’ve got a big mouthful.”
  • Later That Day: Perry’s communications director Ray Sullivan tells the Wall Street Journal that “‘Fed Up!’ is not meant to reflect the governor’s current views” on Social Security and that Perry’s nine month-old book is “not in any way [] a 2012 campaign blueprint or manifesto.”
  • Aug. 27, 2011: Perry undisavows Fed Up!. At a campaign stop in Iowa, ThinkProgress’ Scott Keyes asks Perry whether states-rights supporters should be worried that “as governor you said that Social Security is not something that falls in the purview of the federal government, but in your campaign, [you] have backed off that.” Perry is incredulous at the suggestion that his communications director’s nine day-old statement disavowing Fed Up! actually reflects the governor’s current views. “I haven’t backed off anything in my book. Read the book again, get it right. Next question.”
  • Five Minutes Later: Perry un-undisavows Fed Up!. Just a few short minutes after re-embracing Fed Up!‘s claim that Social Security is unconstitutional, Perry tries to distance himself from this view once again. “Those that have said that I said [Medicare and Social Security are] unconstitutional, I’m going to have them read the book. That’s not what I said.”

For the record, Perry is not telling the truth when he claims that he’s never said Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional.

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