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Perry Open to Social Security Age, Income Changes

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Republican presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the Johnson County GOP Fall BBQ at Clear Creek-Amana High School, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Tiffin, Iowa.AP

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry stepped more deeply into the tricky issue of Social Security on Saturday, saying he is open to raising the age for receiving benefits and limiting them for upper-income people.

The Texas governor told an Iowa audience that "it makes sense" to increase the eligibility age because Americans are living longer. The age for full benefits is now 65.

He also said it may be time to limit payments for higher-income people, a process known as means-testing. "I' don't have a problem with that concept," Perry said in Sioux City, Iowa.

And he raised the possibility of creating "private accounts" for Americans who want to opt out of the Social Security program, a notion that Democrats typically have strongly opposed. All Social Security tax collections now go toward benefits for current retirees or other government programs. Private accounts would require tax payments to somehow be invested, presumably along lines chosen by the payer.

The governor offered no details, but said any changes to the program would not apply to people now on Social Security or within a few years of eligibility.

Perry previously has said a higher eligibility age and means-testing should be considered. But he seemed more supportive of these ideas Saturday when responding to questions in Sioux City and Spencer.

Perry pointed to projections that Social Security cannot fully pay benefits in future years unless its funding is increased. He has likened the system to a "Ponzi scheme," saying younger Americans should be made aware that their payroll tax payments are not set aside but are distributed to current retirees.

"With no changes, it won't be there when they retire," he told a crowd in Spencer.

In his book, "Fed Up," Perry suggested Social Security was unconstitutional.

Democrats and many Republicans have criticized Perry's remarks on Social Security. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another top competitor for the GOP nomination, has said Perry's comments may render him unelectable.

In recent weeks Perry has portrayed himself as a courageous politician willing to tell hard truths about the program. He urged Iowans not to let others frighten them. Social Security won't change for people at or near the eligibility age, he said. And it must change for younger workers if they are to reap its promises, he said.