Medicare and retirement security have been hot issues in this year's congressional campaigns, made even more critical with control of the Senate up for grabs. But you wouldn't know it from watching some of the debates in key battleground states.
Debate season kicked off this week with nary a reference to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and retirement issues - even as candidates in both parties hammered each other on the topics in political ads.
In Massachusetts, where Republican Sen. Scott Brown is locked in a tight race against his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, the issues didn't come up at all in Thursday night's debate, which was sponsored by AARP on WBZ NewsRadio. Instead, the two sparred over taxes and who would be a better advocate for the middle class. Some 45 percent of Massachusetts voters who turned out in the last presidential year were 50 and older - suggesting that there's a wide swath of voters who care about programs affecting those in or near retirement. Some of them were outside the debate site, holding signs that said, "Tell Us Your Plan for Social Security and Medicare," and "We Vote."
And in Virginia, where Republican George Allen is facing off against Democrat Tim Kaine, the issues of Medicare and Social Security were conspicuously absent from their Thursday debate, which focused on possible defense cuts and taxes. In 2008, 37 percent of the voters who turned out in Virginia were 5o or older, according to exit polls.
Caught after the Massachusetts debate, Warren said: "Let me make two points clear as long as I have this opportunity. I will not vote to cut Social Security benefits or guaranteed Medicare benefits. I will not." She didn't provide specifics. Brown was unavailable after the debate, but his campaign manager, Jim Barnett, said: "Let me tell you Scott's principles on this. One, for any senior or anyone at or nearing the retirement age, the system needs to remain the same." For younger workers, he said, "we're going to have to look at tweaking the retirement age,'' and for higher-income workers, "again those under 55 or right about there, we'll have to look at making some adjustments to some of the calculations."
After the debate, Linda F. Fitzgerald, the state president of AARP Massachusetts, which has 800,000 members in the state, expressed disappointment that the candidates "did not take this prime opportunity to let voters know where they stand on the future of these crucial benefits." -Susan Milligan