Matthew A. Doheny denied five times Thursday that he favored the privatization of Social Security for retirees of the distant future, prompting Democratic opponent William L. Owens to brand him a “flip-flop.”
“A vote for Matt Doheny will continue Social Security, will not be privatization,” the Republican congressional candidate said during a taping of “Public Eye” for WPBS-TV. “To characterize my record otherwise is just not right.”
But Mr. Doheny has said at least three times publicly that he supported reforming the system so that retirees decades from now could put at least a portion of their contributions into investments that they choose.
“Everyone loves a 401k. People have their own independent pension and all that. The fact that we don’t have that as our Social Security system is nonsensical,” he said at an Upstate New York Tea Party forum held March 25 in Plattsburgh. “The reality is: Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Harry Reid want to tell you what to do. I, as your congressional representative, want to give you the opportunity to live how you want to live, including your own retirement security.”
He also spoke in favor of some privatization in an April interview with the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and at an August gathering with supporters in Madison County attended by a Watertown Daily Times reporter.
Mr. Doheny’s team also told Mark Weiner, a Syracuse Post-Standard reporter, that the candidate thought “all options should be on the table for future reform,” which was included in a Sunday story. Mr. Weiner said Thursday he specifically asked Alison Power, Mr. Doheny’s spokeswoman, whether that included privatization and was told it did. Ms. Power declined comment Thursday, saying only that her candidate was opposed to privatization.
Mr. Owens, the 23rd district’s representative, said Mr. Doheny’s position change “speaks a little bit to a little political maneuvering.”
It was hardly the only time the two traded barbs during the hour-long debate, which will air at 9 tonight on WPBS-TV.
Mr. Doheny continued to criticize Mr. Owens for voting similarly to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during his first 11 months in office.
“When it’s mattered for the country, for the community that’s here in the 23rd district, he’s been with Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Doheny said. “He’s voted with her on anything from health care — nationalizing one-sixth of this economy — it’s a wrong vote for this district and wrong vote for the economy. He voted to increase spending $1.2 trillion.”
Mr. Owens countered that he ranked in the 12th percentile of party loyalty and voted against Mrs. Pelosi twice on raising the debt ceiling and once each against the estate tax and financial services reform.
“I can tell you there was a great deal of consternation about those votes,” he said.
On health care, Mr. Owens argued that a reform bill he twice voted for “is not a perfect bill by any stretch of the imagination. But this is something we needed to do to be able to get our arms around it.”
Mr. Doheny argued that “people’s insurance is going through the roof” because of Mr. Owens’s vote, but the congressman said doing nothing would have been more costly.
“We’re in a situation where we’re all paying for those who don’t have health insurance. Because where were they going when they all needed care? The emergency room,” Mr. Owens said. “It’s been estimated the cost of uncompensated care in the premium realm is about $1,000 per family.”
Mr. Owens criticized Mr. Doheny’s position on repealing the law, saying to do so “without any serious plan to contain costs is irresponsible.”
Mr. Doheny said he had a plan: tort reform, allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines and rooting out fraud and waste.
Mr. Doheny lambasted Mr. Owens for voting to adjourn the session before addressing soon-to-expire Bush-era tax cuts, noting the adjournment vote passed by one. But Mr. Owens said there was a “failure of leadership” on both sides to reach compromise and he voted to adjourn “when I was told there was no chance of moving that legislation forward.”
Mr. Doheny was opposed to a repeal of the military policy on gays, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” saying that decision should be left to military leaders, not “unelected judges” and members of Congress. Mr. Owens said he would support a repeal if military leaders decided it would not have an adverse impact.
The debate also will air at 10:35 tonight on WNYF-TV Fox 28.