Republican David McSweeney, challenging Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), started running a new television ad on Monday evening. It's misleading when it comes to portraying Bean's position on Social Security and a cheap shot when the spot talks about her not protecting "our values."
A spokesman for AARP, David Sloane, said McSweeney "twisted" Bean's response to an AARP election questionnaire and said McSweeney's spot amounted to a "scare tactic." Sloane said the AARP was mailing a letter to all of its members in the north suburban 8th Congressional District --some tens of thousands -- to "make clear" the McSweeney spot was a "mischaracterization."
McSweeney's new spot is kick-in-the-gut tough. Bean has her share of hard-hitting ads. The issue here is when it comes to Social Security; McSweeney's ad is not accurate.
The ad states that Bean "supports raising Social Security taxes and cutting Social Security benefits." The attribution for that statement, the McSweeney campaign says, comes from the AARP Voters' Guide.
Republicans helping other GOP House candidates have been running ads against Democrats based on the same AARP Voters Guide.
The Annenberg Political Fact Check has analyzed these other claims -- not specifically McSweeney's -- and concluded, "Republicans misleadingly accuse Democrat House candidates of aiming to shrink benefit checks."
FactCheck -- at www.factcheck.org -- is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and is a nonpartisan center that "aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics."
Social Security faces a solvency crisis in the future. When and how severe an emergency was a matter of much debate between Republicans and Democrats in 2005, when Social Security reform was taken up in the House.
President Bush confused the discussion in 2005 by linking any change in Social Security to a plan to create voluntary retirement investment accounts. The accounts would be funded by diverting a small amount of Social Security payroll withholding dollars into these private investments.
The president criss-crossed the country to try to drum up support for his private investment accounts. But he never was able to gain much traction and Social Security faded as an issue. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert simply moved on to other legislative items rather than fight for proposals where there was disagreement even among his own GOP members.
Enter the closing days of the 2006 midterm elections. The battle over Bean's 8th Congressional District is one of the biggest in the country.
AARP asked two questions: "Would you support or oppose a balanced Social Security plan to continue the program's guaranteed benefits for future generations? Will you support or oppose using Social Security taxes to fund private accounts?"
Bean answered support to the first and oppose to the second.
AARP presented its own position to candidates at the time it asked for answers to its questions:
"AARP believes that a bipartisan plan that balances additional contributions from higher income workers with modest adjustments in future benefits can maintain guaranteed Social Security benefits for future generations." AARP is also against private accounts.
So lets dissect this: There is no one around who seriously advocates cutting benefits. That's political suicide. At issue in the overall Social Security debate is the pace at which future benefits should grow. AARP has never suggested rolling back benefits -- even adjusted for inflation.
On taxes: At present, a worker has 6.2 percent of wages deducted for Social Security, up to $90,000 of earnings. AARP is open to raising the cap -- but not the rate. What is Bean's position on this? Her answer is silent on this point.
"David McSweeney has insulted AARP and our seniors by refusing to respond to their questions, manipulating their voter guide and misrepresenting my position on Social Security," Bean said. "Clearly my opponent is so incapable of independent thinking, even his lies are dictated by his party."
McSweeney told me he did not answer the AARP questions because the way they were asked was "loaded." He said it was an "honest deduction" to summarize Bean's position based on the AARP survey.
"I don't think it was misleading," McSweeney said of his spot. "I stand by it 100 percent."