ALBANY, Ga. -- U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, picked up the endorsement of the nation's second-largest seniors' group while courting votes in what has shaped up to be a tightly contested race.
Bishop, who is running against Republican state Rep. Mike Keown of Coolidge, has thumped Keown through his campaign for what he contends is Keown's support for a push to privatize federal programs like Social Security and Medicaid.
Monday, Bishop took his message to the seniors, pledging to shield Social Security and Medicare from attempts at privatization.
"I have been there, fighting with them, (seniors) and for them on Social Security and Medicare issues and pledge to continue to do so if elected," Bishop said.
Bishop, who will receive another 100 percent rating on an annual report card later this month that ranks how those in Congress voted on certain senior-related issues by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, or NCPSCM, said that maintaining both programs is vital to helping Georgians and people in the district cope with poverty.
Max Richtman, the executive vice president of NCPSCM, said his organization, which has more than 4 million members, was proud to endorse Bishop because of his defense of both Social Security and Medicare.
"We're here to help get the congressman r-eelected because we know how vital it is to have a representative in Congress who is in a position to keep these programs safe and intact," Richtman said. "He's got a perfect score when it comes to the issues that we believe are important to our members."
The Bishop campaign has criticized Keown, contending that Keown has embraced the concept of privatizing Social Security -- the idea to allow at least to some degree flexibility in how one invests their FICA taxes that support Social Security.
Calls to the Keown campaign to seek comment were not returned Monday afternoon.
The only reference The Herald could find to anything Keown has said publicly about his position on Social Security was a June 5 statement in the Americus-Times Recorder taken in a pre-primary forum with the other Republican candidates.
When asked his position on Social Security, Keown is quoted as saying that there was "no easily solution" to problems the Social Security funding faced, but that he felt it could be worked out.
The Bishop campaign cited statements it said Keown made at a GOP breakfast on Sept. 11, indicating his support of allowing a privatized-like plan for Social Security.
A video posted on Youtube.com of the breakfast shows Keown addressing a question from an audience member about his position on Social Security and Medicare.
In the video, Keown said that he believed government should "do what we've committed to do" for people who have worked and put into the Social Security system, while allowing younger people to invest at least a portion of their FICA taxes.
"I'm for making sure that we take care of those seniors and those folks that are out there that need that and, at the same time, give younger folks the option of privatizing," Keown said on the video.
Richtman called concerns that Social Security was bankrupt a "myth," pointing to a $2.5 trillion surplus the program's trust experienced this year.
"The program is solvent until 2037 and even if Congress took no action then, although we're sure they will, it would still pay out up to 78 percent after that," Richtman said. "It's obvious adjustments will need to be made, but it's not in a crisis."
What doesn't need to happen, according to Richtman, is that lawmakers decide to tamper with that surplus to use it to pay off debt.
"Those are funds that have been paid in by the working people of America and if Congress starts messing with it, you'll see that date we were talking about occur much sooner that 2037," he said.
In terms of Medicare, both Bishop and Richtman said they would like to see scrutiny and oversight of the program to be beefed up to help cut dollars misspent on fraud, waste and abuse.
"Both are vital safety nets for people both in this district, throughout Georgia and throughout the country," Bishop said.
Seniors have traditionally been some of Bishop's most ardent supporters in the region and he has, at least to some degree, responded in kind with funding and projects from Washington.
A new senior center, which is slated to be built next year by the SOWEGA Council on Aging, received more than $245,000 in federal funding to help get off the ground through Bishop's office. Another request is in the FY 2011 appropriations wish list for $500,000 for the project.