Like many Republicans — and virtually all tea party Republicans — Marco Rubio does not dismiss the idea of privatizing Social Security. But on the trail running for Senate in Florida, where the senior citizen vote matters even more than it does other places, Rubio has made it clear that the time for a serious debate about betting Social Security money on the stock market has come and gone. At least he does sometimes. As Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show Friday night, Rubio started out the year calling for a partial privatization before later moving to the “let’s not and say we did” senior-citizen-friendly position he holds today.
The clip on Maddow came from the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald. It was taken at a Rubio event in January.
“I do think the retirement age issue is going to have to be confronted,” Rubio says when asked about fixing Social Security. “The other is giving people the option of taking some of their Social Security money, at least a potion thereof, and investing it in an alternative to the Social Security system itself.”
But wait, someone asks, wouldn’t that mean people could lose all their Social Security money in a stock market crash if they made the wrong investments?
“Potentially,” Rubio says. “It’s their money.”
Watch (Rubio starts at 3:31):
In the year of campaigning that followed that statement, Rubio’s position evolved into one much more palatable to the millions of Social Security recipients who reside in Florida and vote. At a debate with his then-Republican rival Charlie Crist in March, Rubio was perfectly happy to continue pushing a line that may have ruffled some elderly feathers. He called for an increase in the retirement age and floated the possibility that cost of living increases might have to be cut.
By September, Rubio was toning things down a bit, and making a beeline for the safe position on Social Security. In an interview on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show, Rubio said privatizing the program is not realistic and said he was opposed to pursuing it.
“That time has come and gone,” Rubio says when Cauvto asks about privatizing the program. “I don’t think that’s the solution.”
Watch (as clipped by ThinkProgress):
So what led to Marco’s switch? Maddow suggests the flip-flop is due to pressure from Rubio’s opponents in the three-way Senate race. Back in that March debate, Crist ripped Rubio for even floating the idea of serious changes to the way Social Security benefits are doled out.
“The idea of having a higher age [for benefits] really flies in the face of an awful lot of my fellow Floridians,” he said at the time. Crist is now the independent nominee for Senate.
Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek has been attacking Rubio for his changing position on Social Security in the general election contest.
“I’m the only one against privatizing Social Security!” Meek said gleefully on a bus full of seniors in his first campaign ad of the general election.
But the Rubio campaign says the reason for the change of heart on Social Security privatization came from Rubio, not rhetorical barbs thrown by the two men running against him.
“He studied the issue at length and reached the conclusion that the numbers don’t make [privatization] a viable solution to preserve Social Security and that the focus should be on other areas involving younger workers who are decades away from retirement” Rubio spokesperson Alex Burgos told the St. Petersburg Times late last month. “This conclusion is based on Marco’s extensive study of the fiscal impact and his belief that Social Security must be preserved for future generations.”
The TPM Poll Average shows Rubio leading the three-way race, drawing 41.6% support. Crist is running second with 29.7% and Meek is running third with 22%.