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Russ Carnahan calls for lifting cap on Social Security tax, not cutting benefits

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 7, 2010 - As they waited for lunch, which was being prepared a few feet away, several dozen elderly people gathered at the Affton White-Rodgers Community Center Wednesday listened -- and applauded -- as U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan pledged his support for maintaining the nation's Social Security program.

Carnahan's audience wasn't just in Affton. Wednesday's stop was the second in four such appearances that the congressman has scheduled this week to talk to elderly residents throughout the 3rd District.

The St. Louis Democrat's broader target is the 100,000 residents (and likely voters) in the 3rd congressional District who, according to federal data, collect Social Security.

Carnahan's appearances this week come less than two weeks after his defense of Social Security prompted laughter from some critics in the audience at his first debate with his Republican rival, Ed Martin.

But there was no laughter -- only concern -- from Carnahan's audience Wednesday. Carnahan also didn't mention Martin, since his stops this week are official events, not campaign visits. As a result, he was accompanied by members of his congressional staff, not his campaign crew.

The creation of Social Security, said the congressman in his brief address, is "one of the fundamental things'' that the nation has done to help improve the lives of the elderly. He cited the program's low overhead -- about 2 percent -- and praised it as "very efficient."

"It needs to continue,'' Carnahan said, igniting the applause.

The most obvious change to bolster Social Security's finances, he said, would be to increase or eliminate the payroll tax ceiling of $106,800. Earnings higher than that are not subject to the Social Security tax.

"It's a question of fairness,'' said Carnahan, explaining that he believed it was unfair to middle-class and lower-income workers that those earning higher incomes paid a smaller percentage of their pay into the Social Security system.

He added that he opposed one alternative that some Republicans have proposed -- raising the retirement age.

He blasted the Republican congressional effort in 2005 to privatize at least part of the Social Security program, and put the money in the stock market, saying that the stock market declines since then could have devastated the retirements of older Americans.

Carnahan asserted that some Republicans want to resurrect the idea. He did not mention his Republican opponent, Ed Martin -- who has accused Carnahan of falsely implying that Martin is among those seeking to privatize Social Security.

Martin has said, however, the program is broke, which Carnahan disputes.

Afterwards, Carnahan was asked about the laughter during that first debate, which subsequently has circulated on the internet in an unflattering Youtube video.

Those who assert that the Social Security program is poorly managed or broken, said Carnahan are "ignoring the facts."

When asked, Carnahan added that he's confident that Democrats will maintain their majority in the U.S. House. With the chamber in recess, he and his colleagues are now "back home and talking about the issues,'' the congressman said.

And that includes Social Security.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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