KEENE, N.H. — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum called Friday for immediate cuts to Social Security benefits, risking the wrath of older voters and countless others who balk at changes to the entitlement program.
"We can't wait 10 years," even though "everybody wants to," Santorum told a crowd while campaigning in New Hampshire and looking to set himself apart from his Republican rivals four days before the New Hampshire primary.
Most of his opponents have advocated phasing in a reduction and say immediate cuts would be too big a shock to current and soon-to-be retirees.
Politicians typically suggest phase-in periods of up to a decade when broaching the topic of changing Social Security to avoid grievous consequences from angering older voters.
Clearly aware of the risks, Santorum argued that everyone must sacrifice now because the nation's "house is on fire" with soaring federal debt. He argued that he is being courageous and honest by telling Americans they can't afford to wait to rein in Social Security's growing costs. And he said he anticipated possible attack ads on his position.
Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, says changes should include a higher eligibility age to qualify for Social Security benefits, and tighter restrictions on benefits for upper-income people. Americans now qualify for reduced Social Security benefits at age 62 and full benefits at 66, soon to rise to 67.
Social Security pays proportionately higher benefits to low-income people. But Santorum says wealthy retirees' proportionate benefits should be trimmed further.
This week, he told New Hampshire audiences that Americans over 65 were society's poorest age group in 1937, when Social Security was created. Now that group is the wealthiest, he said.