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Big Issues for Candidates

Views on Social Security, Medicare and retirement security

When David Krieg makes his choices in the voting booth in November, the candidates' views on the future of Social Security and Medicare will weigh heavily in his calculus.

See also: Voter ID requirements.

He relies on his Social Security benefits and Medicare insurance coverage for a comfortable and safe retirement, but both programs face long-term financial challenges driven by greater longevity and the size of the boomer generation.

"Whoever the president is, whoever is elected to Congress, they are going to have to face these issues," said Krieg, 80, of La Crosse. "They can't kick it down the road any further."

Without changes, Social Security is expected to pay full benefits only through 2033, with enough income after that to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits. Medicare's trust fund will run out of money to pay hospital costs in 2024.

Possible changes include increasing the income limit on payroll taxes that help finance Social Security, reducing benefits, increasing the age at which full benefits can be received by Americans who are now 55 or younger and reducing the cost-of-living increases that apply to continuing benefits.

AARP Wisconsin has asked congressional candidates to specify where they stand on the future of Social Security and Medicare.

For the most part, the voters have not gotten the facts, said Lisa Lamkins, AARP Wisconsin federal issues advocacy director.

"On the campaign trail, Social Security and Medicare have not been getting the attention they deserve," she said. "It's unfortunate because so many people in Wisconsin rely on these programs."

About four in 10 Wisconsin residents 65 and older would live in poverty if they did not receive Social Security, Lamkins said. More than a quarter of those rely on Social Security as their sole income

Throughout the spring and summer, AARP Wisconsin collected concerns and suggestions from state residents about Social Security and Medicare. These large and small gatherings, called You've Earned a Say, are conducted by Krieg and other volunteers.

In June, AARP Wisconsin began presenting the pros and cons of the major options.

"We want the public to be deeply educated on what the options are for reform of these programs," said Jim Flaherty, AARP Wisconsin communications director. "We want them to be well-armed when they meet with the candidates and get a chance to ask questions."

The efforts are especially important because of the unprecedented amount of political advertising, Lamkins said.

Next: Find out what's at stake. »

What's at stake

"In today's world of instant spin, myths and misinformation go global within seconds," Lamkins said. "We think it's important that people understand what is at stake with these issues."

AARP Wisconsin plans to cosponsor a debate between the two U.S. Senate candidates, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin and former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

They will be asked:

* How would you protect Social Security for today's seniors and strengthen it for future generations?

* How would you put Medicare on stronger financial ground and protect today's seniors and future retirees from the burden of rising health costs?

* How would you help Americans, especially those 50-plus, build a financial nest egg for retirement?

In addition, candidates for the eight U.S. House seats will be invited to forums.

AARP does not endorse candidates. "We're just providing the unvarnished facts about the positions the candidates take," said Sam Wilson, AARP Wisconsin state director.

All the Wisconsin candidates for state and national office have been asked to state their positions in writing on Social Security, Medicare and planning for retirement. Those responses will be posted on AARP Wisconsin's Facebook page and on the AARP Wisconsin website. AARP Wisconsin will also have real-time updates on all election news on Twitter.

Marie Rohde is a writer living in Milwaukee.

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