WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean (search) said Wednesday that he misspoke when he told the AFL-CIO he never favored raising the retirement age for Social Security (search) benefits to age 70.
Dean acknowledged that he had called for such an increase when the country was faced with a deficit in 1995, but said he no longer thinks it is necessary. He said former President Clinton set an example of balancing the budget without raising the retirement age.
"Clinton proved that if you run a decent economy and have a budget surplus and some jobs, then you don't need to raise the age to extend the life of Social Security," Dean said in a telephone interview after The Associated Press questioned conflicting statements he has made on the issue.
The current retirement age for receiving full program benefits is 65 years and two months. The retirement age will gradually rise to 67 over the next two decades.
Dean's false statement came Tuesday night during an appearance at the AFL-CIO (search)'s Democratic presidential candidate forum.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) of Ohio, who favors taking it back to age 65, criticized Dean for saying he'd raise to 68 or 70. Dean responded, "I have never favored a Social Security retirement age of 70 nor do I favor one of 68."
But that contradicted a 1995 article in which Dean said he wanted to raise it to age 70 to help balance the budget. It also contradicted a television appearance in June in which Dean said he would consider raising the age to 68.
According to the 1995 Newhouse News Service article, Dean said the way to balance the budget is for Congress to move the retirement age to 70, cut defense, Social Security, Medicare and veterans pensions, and then have the states cut almost everything else. At the time, Dean was Vermont's governor and chairman of the National Governors Association.
During a television appearance in June, Dean said an increase to age 70 is no longer necessary, but he would entertain an increase to 68.
He said the way to balance the budget now is to repeal President Bush's tax cuts and restrict spending. He said to balance Social Security, he would consider raising the retirement age to 68 and letting more salary above $87,000 fall under the payroll tax.
On Wednesday, Dean said since that appearance, he has consulted with experts and concluded that no increase in the retirement age would be necessary. A better solution, he said, would be to raise the salary limit.
"I'm willing to take it off entirely if we need to," he said.
Dean has made misstatements before on the presidential campaign trail.
He apologized to rival John Edwards in March after saying that the North Carolina senator avoided talking about his support of the Iraq war before a largely anti-war audience in California. Dean said he did not hear Edwards when he pledged support for disarming Iraq by force and was booed and jeered by many in the crowd.
In June, he angered Bob Graham's presidential campaign by saying the Florida senator was "not one of the top-tier candidates" seeking the party's nomination. The next day he said he regretted the remark.