ORLANDO, Fla. – Seizing on a report that a plan to privatize Social Security includes raising the retirement age for full benefits to 72, vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) on Saturday renewed a promise that the Democrats would never raise the retirement age (search).
"How many factory and mill workers, like the ones I grew up with, would now have to work more before they get their retirement benefits?" Edwards asked during a rally of union members. "How many nurses, elementary school teachers, taxicab drivers would now have to work more? We need the answers to these questions before Election Day, not after."
Fortune magazine was reporting that the Social Security Administration (search) is considering an idea that calls for early retirement accounts that begin paying at age 62 by setting aside one-sixth of the money that employees and employers pay to Social Security. To make up for the lost revenue, the magazine reported, the full retirement age would be pushed back from 67 to 72.
Although Bush was not named in the report, Edwards pinned the news on the president and claimed Bush is hiding the truth of what would happen in his second term.
"There's one person we all don't mind sending into early retirement, and his name is George W. Bush," Edwards said.
The Bush campaign accused Edwards of "flat-out lying" in order to scare voters.
"The truth is, President Bush will not raise taxes, will not cut benefits and will not raise the retirement age when it comes to Social Security," Bush campaign spokesman Brian Jones said. "John Kerry, on the other hand, has supported doing all three and has voted to raise taxes on Social Security recipients eight times. The Kerry campaign is proving once again that they will do anything to avoid talking about John Kerry's record and will say anything to score cheap political points."
Social Security is a hot-button issue in Florida, home to nearly 3 million people age 65 and older. With the state's 27 electoral votes up for grabs, campaigns may go far with successful appeals to the elderly.
Edwards' warning is part of the strategy used by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who is trying to make Bush's handling of Social Security and health care major issues in the campaign.
Bush spent most of the day visiting cities in Florida's hurricane country that he carried four years ago.