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Senate Candidates Sherrod Brown, Josh Mandel See Tough Choices

Their views on Social Security and Medicare

Both men running in the Ohio U.S. Senate race acknowledge that tough choices lie ahead for Social Security and Medicare. One-term incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) and Republican challenger Josh Mandel also agree the solutions must be bipartisan.

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Social Security trustees project that, without changes, the program can pay 100 percent of benefits only through 2033. After that, the payout would drop to 75 percent.

Medicare trustees predict that money for hospital costs will be exhausted in 2024.

The health of Social Security and Medicare is of particular concern in Ohio, where 14 percent of the state's population — more than 1.6 million people — is 65 or older.

The candidates' positions on those issues were drawn from emailed responses to questions from the AARP Bulletin and from their campaign websites.

Brown said he does not support reducing benefits or raising the eligibility age for either program.

Mandel said current enrollees, along with those at or near eligibility age, should not be affected by any potential changes to the programs.

Brown: Raise the cap

Brown suggested raising the level of Social Security's cap on taxable income, which is currently $110,100.

In addition, he said, more jobs would lead to more money sent to the Social Security trust fund, helping to strengthen it. That's "one of many reasons our nation must review its trade and manufacturing policies to ensure we are positioned for success in the 21st-century global economy."

Brown recently introduced legislation to base Social Security's cost-of-living increases on retiree-specific expenses, which are higher in some categories — such as prescriptions and energy — than the current basis for cost-of-living adjustments. Brown said he would find "an appropriate offset" to pay for the change.

Mandel said government must stop diverting money meant for Social Security to other purposes.

"The first step toward reform is to end the wasteful spending in other areas of the budget," he said.

Mandel's campaign website says he advocates a cut in discretionary spending to fiscal year 2009 levels, a freeze in nondefense discretionary spending and a statutory spending limit of 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Next: Brown on Social Security and Mandel's take on change. »

Mandel said young people "deserve the opportunity to have more say in how their money is invested."

Brown said Social Security should "never be privatized."

He said Medicare can be strengthened by increasing consumer access to generic drugs, reimporting safe drugs from places like Canada and allowing the federal government to negotiate volume discounts on prescription drugs for Medicare participants.

He cosponsored several bills that aim to bring down the cost of Medicare through prescription drug savings. For example, one would establish a Medicare-operated prescription drug plan to compete with private options currently offered.

Brown also supports allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices for seniors, like the Department of Veterans Affairs does for veterans.

Mandel: We need change

The greatest threat to Social Security and Medicare, Mandel said, is keeping the status quo.

"The policies enacted by Washington politicians have put Social Security and Medicare on a path toward insolvency," he said.

In order to save them, "we need to change Washington," he said. "In order to change Washington, we need to change the people we send there."

He did not list specific changes he would endorse for Medicare.

Brown, 59, served in the U.S. House and Ohio General Assembly and was Ohio secretary of state.

Mandel, who turns 35 this month, is the state treasurer and served in the Ohio General Assembly.

Sarah Hollander is a writer living in Cleveland.

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