Norton under fire for remarks about Social Security

From Staff Reports
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the frontrunner in this year’s contest for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, attracted a barrage of local and national attention this week — and most of it not very complimentary. The mounting criticism stemmed from remarks made by Norton at a Colorado Springs event Tuesday night — hosted, in part, by several local Tea Party chapters. Norton was asked to identify which programs she deemed unconstitutional and should not be funded by the federal government.

“The federal government is fundamentally out of control,” Norton answered. “They are seizing control of things like car companies, banks, insurance companies. They’re encroaching in areas of education, of the EPA and its endangerment finding, circumventing the rule of law, circumventing legislative processes. They are absolutely out of control.”

And then came the part that’s gotten her into such political hot water this week.

Norton added, “With regard to Social Security, it has been turned into a Ponzi scheme. The money that people paid into it should be there for those who need it for their retirement.”

Her remarks immediately sparked controversy both in Colorado and nationwide from critics upset over the analogy.

Pat Waak, the state Democratic Party chairman, pounced on Norton’s comments in a conference call to reporters this week.

“I’m not sure whether she knows what a Ponzi scheme is or not, but clearly she is a candidate (who) is out of step with Colorado and out of step with the issues she is trying to raise as she moves around the state,” said Waak.

“To take something like Social Security that people have paid into for years and years and are getting their Social Security benefits from, and to turn around and say it’s like a Ponzi scheme — I don’t get it,” she stated.

“Coloradans have paid into the program for years and many Coloradans who have paid in are now receiving their benefits.

“What do the beneficiaries think of Norton’s remarks? Is she going to tell us what she meant by that? I would like to know,” the Democratic Party leader added.

This isn’t the first time that Norton has come under fire for remarks to Tea Party supporters. With the advent of YouTube and instant coverage caught on video, it’s become increasingly more difficult to shield candidates from detractors trying to document a particular candidate’s impromptu remarks for the record.

Norton was similarly criticized earlier in the campaign for allowing an attendee at a coffee shop event to go unquestioned when she complained about President Obama being a Muslim.

At another Tea party function, Norton reportedly said the president cares more about protecting the rights of terrorists than protecting the American people.

Waak mentioned these occurrences during her conference call this week, including another instance when Norton said the president cares more about protecting the rights of terrorists than protecting the American people.

Americans United for Change, the group formerly known as Americans United to Protect Social Security that led the national campaign to beat back President Bush’s effort to privatize Social Security in 2005, called on Norton this week to elaborate on her “shocking remarks” linking Social Security to a Ponzi scheme.

Tom McMahon, acting executive director of the organization, said that Norton “may not be aware that Social Security has operated successfully as the same pay-as-you-go system it always has since FDR signed it into law nearly 75 years ago. If Norton believes Social Security, which has been credited with pulling millions of seniors, survivors and disabled Americans out of poverty, is a ‘Ponzi scheme,’ she owes the people of Colorado a straight answer on what specifically she would change about the system or replace it with.”

Nate Strauch, Norton’s campaign press secretary, responded that Norton stands by her description. “In a Ponzi scheme, new investors are used to pay old investors, which is exactly the way social security works,” Strauch said in an email to reporters.

“A Ponzi scam ends when the money runs out. Social Security is headed toward bankruptcy in its current form, meaning later investors won’t get paid, just like a Ponzi scheme,” he said.

Eric Schultz, communications director for the admittedly partisan Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, wasn’t buying Strauch’s explanation.

“She thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Notice how that came kind of at the end of her big statement about how liberals are taking over America and we can’t turn this thing around,” Schultz said on The Ed Show on MSN cable television.

“She just got on a roll and really got after Social Security, which has been the most successful and reliable government program for more than 70 years. Period.

“Now, watch out Colorado,” Schultz intoned.

“The woman who wants to be your next senator sounds like she’s reading right out of the Michele Bachmann playbook. Norton is courting the crazy book and so far it’s working,” Schultz added, mentioning that in a recent hypothetical match up she is leading Democratic Senator Michael Bennet.

“We’re going to keep an eye on this one in Colorado because anyone who calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme belongs in psycho talk,” Schultz said.