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Virginia Senate Candidates Spar Over Social Security, Medicare

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In their final scheduled debate before Election Day, Virginia’s two major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate sparred over their records on Social Security and Medicare while voicing similar views on steps needed to address their long-term financing.

The debate, held in Richmond on Oct. 13 and televised statewide, was cosponsored by AARP Virginia, whose president, Bob Blancato, asked the candidates how they would protect the programs.

"If you are 47 years old or younger ... you are looking at getting 70 cents on the dollar of projected benefits because of the insolvency that is looming," said Republican Ed Gillespie, who's challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. Among steps that "ought to be considered," he said, are changing the inflation-based formula for annual benefit increases and raising the retirement age.

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Warner, who's seeking a second term, cited his persistent efforts to control spending on the two programs, which he said have made him the target of "arrows from both the Left and the Right and occasionally even AARP." He repeated his past support for modifying the formula for Social Security cost-of-living increases and to raise the retirement age for workers who are not yet 35. He also voiced the option of raising the Social Security wage-base limit from its current level of $117,000.

Both candidates said that they would not tamper with the benefits of current beneficiaries or those nearing retirement.

Warner attacked Gillespie for supporting the "privatization" plan for Social Security that President George W. Bush unveiled in 2005. That plan would have been "devastating" during the 2008 financial crisis, Warner said. Gillespie had been the chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2004, and he joined the White House staff in 2007, ending his affiliation with a major Washington lobbying firm that he'd cofounded.

Gillespie replied that he is running on his own proposals, not Bush's. He attacked Warner for supporting the Affordable Care Act, which he said has "slashed" Medicare services, including home health care and Medicare Advantage plans.

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Warner, in turn, criticized Gillespie for signing the anti-tax pledge of conservative activist Grover Norquist, which Warner said would make it more difficult to sustain Medicare financing. Gillespie responded by saying that he didn't sign the pledge, though an Associated Press story about the debate said that he sent Norquist a letter "with nearly identical wording from the pledge."

Both candidates said that they supported steps to fix Medicare financing. Gillespie called for "patient-centered reforms." Warner said that he supports Medicare Advantage, elimination of bureaucratic waste and combining Part A and Part B for beneficiaries.

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