Rick Perry Tones Down Social Security Language Before Presidential Debate

Texas Gov. Rick Perry toned down his language on Social Security today, deviating from the harsh rhetoric that has fueled criticism from his Republican opponents as they gear up for the second presidential debate in less than a week.

In an op-ed for USA Today, Perry replaced the term “Ponzi scheme” with descriptions of the entitlement program’s “financial condition.”

“I am going to be honest with the American people,” he wrote. “Our elected leaders must have the strength to speak frankly about entitlement reform if we are to right our nation’s financial course and get the USA working again. For too long, politicians have been afraid to speak honestly about Social Security. We must have the guts to talk about its financial condition if we are to fix Social Security and make it financially viable for generations to come.”

At last week’s Republican presidential debate, Perry stuck to claims he voiced about Social Security in his book “Fed Up!” and that he has reiterated while on the campaign trail.

“It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there,” Perry said Wednesday night at the debate in California. ”Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s not right.”

But missing so far from Perry’s discussion is any indication about how he would fix the Social Security program.  While the Texas governor has been quick to criticize the entitlement program, he has not offered any plan for repairing it.

Reporters caught up with Perry outside a Palo Alto, Calif., fundraiser Friday, asking him what he would do to fix Social Security. He offered little guidance on how he would do so.

“I think you can push back the age of which you get in it,” Perry said.  “Where do you start it? Is it 40? Is it 45? Somewhere in there. But don’t tell our kids who are 30 years old out there working that keep paying into this system and it’ll be there for you.”

It was unclear what the Texas governor meant by “start it” at 40 or 45. When asked to clarify his statement,  a Perry spokesman would only point to the ongoing discussions the governor is holding to assess how best to change the program.

“The governor continues to talk about the problem with Social Security and the fact that young Americans will not have the benefits unless the issue is addressed,” spokesman Mark Miner said. “He is continuing to talk about the issue and engage in a healthy public debate on the best ways to fix the problem.”