Candidates lay out their thoughts on Social Security, Medicaid

TUPELO – Whoever wins the 1st District congressional election will face one of the nation’s biggest conundrums – how to continue funding America’s cash-strapped entitlement programs without raising taxes.
It might be impossible, but apparently it’s what the country wants.
A poll released Friday by USA Today/Gallup show three-fourths of Americans think entitlement programs will hurt the economy, but only about half support a tax hike to offset their costs and less than a third approve cutting benefits to save money.
Among the most important federal entitlements are Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, S-CHIP and most Veterans’ Administration programs. Others include unemployment compensation, food stamps and agricultural price support programs.
Together, entitlements devour more than half of the federal budget. And the biggest one – Social Security – will go bankrupt within the next two decades unless it gets a funding fix.
Both major-party candidates in the Nov. 2 general election say they take seriously the entitlement issue. But they have different takes and track records on how to handle it.
Republican candidate Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo staunchly opposes tax increases to pay for entitlements or any other federal program. He said he’d rather cut all non-defense-related federal spending by 10 percent.
It’s what families across America have done during the recession, and Nunnelee, who is a state senator, said the government should do likewise.
Democratic incumbent Travis Childers from Booneville also believes the federal government should rein in spending – he has supported pay-as-you-go legislation since taking office – but the congressman stopped short of opposing a tax increase.
During an Oct. 12 congressional debate at the University of Mississippi, Childers said that taxes, while unpopular, are necessary to fund government services. He didn’t say he’d raise them, but he didn’t promise to cut or hold them at their current levels.
Neither man would name a federal program he’d nix to save cash.
Both men support veterans services with no plan to decrease those benefits.
Childers, for example, voted for the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2010, part of which funded veterans health services and expanded some benefits.
Nunnelee has said numerous times during his campaign that he supports the troops: “I understand the sacrifices our military families make to protect our freedom and we must always protect their interests,” Nunnelee said on his campaign website. “We must also offer our returning veterans the support they deserve.”
Both candidates also oppose privatizing Social Security, which some in Congress have pitched as a way to fix the embattled program. Childers criticized the plan from the beginning, saying it risked senior citizens’ retirements by giving their savings to Wall Street bankers “making reckless choices.”
Nunnelee joined the opposition last month when he and Childers both signed pledges to not privatize the program. The Republican previously hadn’t taken a firm stance against it.
But neither has said exactly how he proposes fixing Social Security’s funding woes.
On health-related entitlements, Nunnelee favors more limited benefits while Childers has voted for increased funding and program expansions.
In 2004, Nunnelee supported the Mississippi Medicaid Reform Act, which cut 65,000 elderly and disabled people cut from Medicaid to save money. This year, Childers voted for the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, which authorized $16.1 billion in Medicaid funding nationwide. About $130 million went for Medicaid in Mississippi.
In 2009, Childers voted for the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which expanded the State Child Health Insurance Program, called S-CHIP, to an additional four million children and pregnant women.
Nunnelee said he supports the S-CHIP program but opposed last year’s expansion because it aids families making up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, which is $88,200 for a family of four.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal