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by Nancy Johnson, AARP Bulletin, October 1, 2010
On two issues of interest to older voters — Social Security and Medicare — Indiana's candidates for U.S. Senate say changes are needed. But they differ broadly on what those changes should be.
Democrat Brad Ellsworth and Republican Dan Coats are competing Nov. 2 for the seat left open by retiring Sen. Evan Bayh, D.
Ellsworth, 52, is a two-term congressman serving Indiana's 8th District since 2007. Ellsworth's background is in law enforcement, and he was sheriff of Vanderburgh County from 1998 to 2006.
Coats, 67, hopes to recapture his former Senate seat. A lawyer and Army veteran, he represented Indiana's 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1989, then served as senator until retiring in 1999. He was ambassador to Germany, and then worked as a lobbyist for Google, Sprint Nextel, Roche Diagnostics, Amgen and others.
On the issues:
Ellsworth opposes converting Social Security into private investment accounts because it would "expose seniors' financial security to the ups and downs of Wall Street." He opposes ending Social Security payments to high-income earners.
He said automatic IRAs would help workers save for retirement, and he supports tax credits to smaller companies to ease administrative costs.
On Medicare, Ellsworth said Congress should devise a new payment formula for doctors to fix the recurring problem of threatened cuts in their reimbursements. Such a formula should reward physicians who provide quality care, he said.
Ellsworth, who voted for the federal health care law, said it will spur economic growth, giving "billions in tax relief to businesses struggling to provide health insurance for their workers and families trying to afford quality coverage."
Coats has said little specifically about Medicare and Social Security, although he calls for "structural change" in the federal government. He supports entitlement reforms proposed by others who advocate privatizing both programs.
Indiana experts cautioned against rushing into privatization.
"As most democracies have done, we will need to subsidize health care and retirement security," said Eleanor DeArman Kinney of the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis.
Added Fred Mittelstaedt of the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, "When people recommend privatizing Social Security, I worry about the safety net for low-income retirees."
The candidates have agreed to three televised debates sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission: Oct. 11 in Indianapolis, Oct. 22 in Fort Wayne, and Oct. 25 in Vincennes.
For additional information, check out the AARP voters' guide.
Nancy Johnson is a freelance journalist in South Bend, Ind.
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