By Mike Lillis - 01/03/12 10:17 PM EST
Just hours before the launch of the Iowa caucuses, a prominent liberal group is taking all six GOP primary candidates to task for their positions on Social Security.
Social Security Works, a left-leaning group opposed to cutting the popular retirement program, warned that each of the Republicans vying for the White House would threaten seniors' well-being by scaling back decades-old benefits.
Among the front-runners in Iowa, for instance, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has written about the "logic" of raising the Social Security eligibility age, the liberal group points out, and he endorsed former President President George W. Bush's proposal to privatize seniors' accounts — a move critics say risks disintegrating the safety net Social Security is designed to be.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), another popular figure in Iowa, also wants to privatize Social Security, arguing that the program is unconstitutional, the report notes. The third leading contender in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), has also fought for both private accounts and a hike in the retirement age, the liberal group adds.
"We’re in the middle of a phase-up to age 67," Santorum said during a campaign stop in South Carolina in September, according to Social Security Works. "We need to continue to do that."
Other GOP primary hopefuls have been even sharper in their criticisms, with Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.) calling Social Security "a tremendous fraud" and Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) characterizing the program as "a Ponzi scheme," the report highlights.
The debate over Social Security — mostly dormant since Bush's failed attempt to privatize the program in 2005 — has gained new resonance since Republicans took the House last year, largely on the message that deficit spending threatens the nation's status as the world's foremost economic power.
Supporters of Social Security cuts, mostly conservatives, argue that the country simply can't afford to pay out current benefits as baby boomers begin to retire en masse. Critics — who tend to be liberal — dismiss those claims, noting that the current $2.7 trillion surplus is enough to pay out full benefits for the next 25 years.
Politically, the issue has been a third rail on Capitol Hill, as the program remains enormously popular nationwide, even among conservative voters critical of the government's reach.