SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle (search) said Sunday a plan for Social Security proposed by Republican John Thune (search) would lead to cuts in benefits and destroy the program. But Thune, who is challenging Daschle in the Nov. 2 election, said the proposal would give young workers more choices while still keeping the program intact for senior citizens.
The exchange came during a televised debate between Thune, a former three-term congressman, and Daschle, who is seeking his fourth term in the Senate.
Thune said of putting some of their Social Security money in personal investment accounts that would be regulated by the federal government.
"It would only apply to younger workers who choose to do it," Thune said. "It doesn't affect seniors ... their benefits would be guaranteed in full."
But Daschle said the plan would spell trouble for older people who depend on the fund to make ends meet.
"The congressional budget office has said the very plan that John has just proposed would take $2 trillion out of the trust fund" and mean a cut in benefits of 40 percent for seniors who continued with the traditional system, Daschle said.
"You're going to destroy the Social Security program as we know it today, there's no question about it," he told Thune.
To preserve Social Security, the federal government must stop borrowing money from it to support tax cuts favored by Republicans, said Daschle.
Thune shot back that Daschle and the Democratic Party have raided the trust fund for years to pay for more government spending.
"Don't sit here and talk about how all of a sudden we've got this problem," Thune said.
Daschle and Thune also tackled energy policy, the economy and the war in Iraq during the hour-long debate sponsored by The Argus Leader and KELO-TV of Sioux Falls.
On Iraq, the candidates said the United States must stay engaged in the war and neither wants to see a draft.
Daschle said he was proud of U.S. soldiers serving overseas but said troops were sent off to battle without proper equipment.
"We didn't provide them with the armor, we didn't provide them with equipment. We're running Humvees with plywood and sandbags, we're running bake sales for body armor ... and you can't do that."
Thune said the Democratic plan for Iraq sounded much like what President Bush wants to accomplish in Iraq. "They don't have a plan, what they have is an echo," said Thune.
He also accused Daschle of not supporting U.S. troops by voting against pay raises for the military.
"It's important that our military personnel have the pay and benefits to which they are entitled," said Thune.
Daschle defended his commitment to the nation's soldiers and military strength. He said has voted for military pay increases during his years in office.
"I'll take a back seat to no one when it comes to our commitment to defense and our troops," Daschle said.
The debate marked the third in less than a week between the two candidates. They squared off last Tuesday and met each other again last Friday. Another Senate debate is scheduled for Monday night.
Daschle, who is serving his third term in the Senate, has been Democratic leader since 1995. Thune lost by just 524 votes two years ago when he ran against Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.