Mike McFadden won't talk specifics on Social Security, but seniors want him to

Mike McFadden

Mike McFadden

Senate candidate Mike McFadden gave an extensive interview to MinnPost's Eric Black last week, but what was most jarring about the chat was the candidate's refusal to give specifics about his policy positions on one issue -- Social Security.

McFadden started off by saying he wanted to reform the program, along with Medicare, soon, telling Black: "My proposal is that we address it now, in a bipartisan fashion and that every issue is on the table."

See also: MIchele Bachmann, defying critics, calls Social Security a fraud

To his credit, McFadden did talk about changing Medicare, including raising the age of eligibility. But despite many repeated pushes from Black, McFadden never gives a specific proposal for fixing Social Security, instead just repeatedly insisting that "we have a problem" with the programs and that "all options need to be on the table."

What the whole exercise amounts to is McFadden trying to have it both ways with his base. McFadden wants to show that he's serious about the reining in the deficit, even if it does require some sacrifice. But he also doesn't want to get senior citizens -- a major part of the Republican base -- upset in the process.

We reached out to McFadden and his campaign repeatedly to try to get a firm answer from them, seeing if they endorsed any specific policies to reform Social Security (like increasing the age of eligibility or changing the cost of living adjustment). Unfortunately, we didn't hear anything back.

But the conversation about reforming Social Security is important, and surprisingly, it's something senior citizens want to talk about. Will Phillips, the state director for AARP, told us that what he hears from members across the state is that the attitude isn't simply "We want our Social Security."

"Our members have told us they want a debate," Phillips says. "So to the extent that our members have expressed frustration about the inaction in Washington, we share those sentiments."

As for exactly what sorts of policies are palatable, Phillips says that the AARP has certain principles it's sticking to right now: It wants Social Security to keep up with inflation, and they don't want a proposal that hurts benefits for those who are currently receiving them. And what seniors don't want, he says, is something like the "chained CPI" proposal, which would lead to benefits increasing at a slower rate over time.

"So we don't believe that [a new proposal] should come as cuts to benefits from current beneficiaries, like chained CPI," says Phillips.

That leaves limited options, but there are options nonetheless. And if seniors are willing to have a real conversation, that means the ball's now in McFadden's court.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.