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Published August 24 2012

Forum fact-check: Super PAC slams Berg on Social Security

FARGO – A Democratic super PAC claims Republican Rep. Rick Berg is a threat to senior citizens’ retirement programs in a new ad released this week.

Majority PAC’s attack against Berg is part of a $1.6 million ad buy that targets several GOP Senate candidates in competitive races nationwide.

The group’s goal is to keep the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. As a super PAC, it can raise and spend unlimited funds.

Majority PAC has released several anti-Berg ads this summer, costing $654,000 in all. Each of the ads targets his record on Medicare and claims he’s “gone Washington.”

Democratic claims over Berg’s Medicare votes have been addressed in previous “Forum Fact-Checks,” but this new ad brings another issue into the fold: privatizing Social Security.

Narrator: “Rick Berg’s a sly one – claims he never voted to cut Medicare, but the congressional record proves he already has. Twice.”

After several attacks by Democratic groups, like Majority PAC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Berg released a response ad in July in which his mom, Francie, defends Berg’s voting record.

In the campaign ad, Francie Berg says her son “would never do anything to harm Social Security or Medicare.”

In both 2011 and 2012, Berg voted in favor of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposals, which included significant reforms and spending cuts to entitlement programs, as well as a host of other federal departments and programs.

Overhauling Medicare as proposed by Ryan – now the GOP vice presidential candidate – would have included budget cuts to the program worth billions of dollars for both fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The proposals were never enacted.

Narrator: “Now, Rick’s trying to hide his plan to privatize Social Security.”

When Berg was a Fargo legislator and the state House majority leader in 2005, he introduced and voted for a resolution that formally supported Congress’ efforts to reform Social Security.

The resolution specifically endorsed then-President George W. Bush’s plan for “voluntary private accounts.” Proposals to use private accounts for Social Security are often referred to as “privatizing” the program.

Berg introduced the resolution with two other legislators and three state senators, all Republicans.

“The federal government has personal savings accounts for many of the federal employees that put money aside for retirement, and I think it’s time for Congress to look at this for individuals. Not to mandate them, but to give them an option,” Berg said in testimony before the state House Judiciary Committee in March 2005.

The state House voted 67-26 – including Berg’s support – to pass the resolution that spring.

That same year, Berg joined the House majority in a 59-25 vote to oppose a similar resolution proposed by Democratic lawmakers that urged Congress to “forego any effort to privatize any aspect of the federal Social Security system.”

Berg’s campaign on Wednesday sought to dismiss this claim in the ad, stating: “As a state legislator, Rick Berg had no impact on Social Security, a program administered by the federal government.”

As a candidate for U.S. House two years ago and now as a U.S. Senate candidate this year, Berg has said he opposes privatizing Social Security.

“We must find a way to preserve and strengthen Social Security without raising payroll taxes, reducing benefits, increasing the retirement age, or privatizing the system,” Berg said during his 2010 House bid.

Narrator: “… last year, Rick sponsored a plan that would cut guaranteed benefits to seniors.”

In July 2011, Berg voted with the Republican majority in the U.S. House to pass the “Cut, Cap and Balance Act” by a 234-190 vote.

The bill was part of last summer’s debate over raising the debt ceiling and cutting federal spending. “Cut, Cap and Balance” would have:

• Reduced federal spending for 2012, while excluding defense, Medicare and Social Security programs from such budget cuts.

• Set caps on the money available for Congress to spend for the next 10 years.

• Required both houses of Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank, alleged that the act would “inexorably subject Social Security and Medicare to deep reductions.”

However, various national media and the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, reported that “Medicare, military retirement, Social Security and veterans” programs would be exempt from the mandatory spending cuts.

“Cut, Cap and Balance” died for lack of action in the Senate.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541