Tea Party freshman Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) is furiously backpedaling today after he was caught on video calling Social Security a “pyramid scheme” that “isn’t working.” While speaking to a group of constituents about his approval for plans that would radically change beloved American entitlement programs, Heck had this to say about the country’s most important social safety net:
HECK: The kid who’s 18 years old — should that kid have to work to age 70? I don’t know but that could be a possibility to try to make this program work. Because look — Social Security started in 1935. … Fast forward to now. Full retirement age is 67 and the life span is 80. So when they first conceived Social Security they didn’t think they were going to be paying benefits for 13, 15 years. That’s one of the reasons why this pyramid scheme isn’t working.
Watch the video, courtesy of Americans United for Change:
Heck’s words touched off an instant uproar among his constituents, who immediately began shouting him down and challenging his disparaging characterization. He also falsely claimed at the outset of his remarks: “No one is talking about raising the retirement age.” Heck appears to be the latest Republican to take his talking points directly from the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R). At a conference for conservative activists, Armey called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” that steals people’s money “under false pretenses.”
Nevada journalist Jon Ralston reported that Heck has been trying to walk back his comments. Heck first said, “I regret that I misspoke” and added, “Those who have followed my position know that I am fully committed to protecting the promise of Social Security.”
Contrary to Heck’s opinion, Social Security has actually worked amazingly well since its inception, lifting millions of disabled and senior citizens out of poverty. It remains indispensable: the median income for senior households is $24,000, and Social Security provides the majority of income for two-thirds of our elderly.
Despite numerous polls and an electoral upset that illustrate just how unpopular their position is, Republicans can’t seem to take the hint that Americans overwhelmingly like and depend on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. After paying into them their entire careers, Americans expect these programs to remain intact to support them when they need it. There is simply no appetite for Republican efforts to abolish them, or tolerance for lawmakers who disparage them. Yet congressional Republicans remain defiant to public opinion and are sticking with their plans to end Medicare.