Hegseth seeks Medicare, Social Security overhauls

Pete Hegseth
Minnesota Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth is looking for Republican Party support to face DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Delegates to the state Republican convention will endorse a candidate for U.S. Senate later this week. MPR News is looking at what each of the candidates is proposing to do about the nation's budget deficit.

On Tuesday we heard from former state Rep. Dan Severson. Today, Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth explains what he would do to reduce the nation's red ink. Tomorrow we'll hear from state Rep. Kurt Bills.

Like the two other Republicans running for the GOP endorsement to take on Democrat Amy Klobuchar, Hegseth spends a lot time on the campaign trail talking about how the federal government spends too much money. He says the country needs to cut spending, not raise taxes.

"Our spending, debt and deficit is out-of-control and completely unsustainable," he says.

Social Security and Medicare account for more than one-third of federal government spending. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, federal health care programs are the fastest growing areas of the budget. Hegseth says there's no point in talking about the spending imbalance without talking about Medicare and Social Security even though that's proven to be a good way to lose an election.

"I had someone say to me before I jumped into this race, 'Well Pete you can jump in but if you touch entitlements, if you touch Medicare and Social Security, you're going to get burned.' And I said, 'If I can't talk about those why am I running?" he says.

Hegseth applauds Wisconsin's Republican Rep. Paul Ryan for budget proposals which, among other things, would give senior citizens grants to buy health insurance rather than cover all their health care through the current single-payer Medicare system.

"So if you want to keep Medicare as you have it right now, you can keep it as you have it," he says. "Or you can opt into a premium-support plan where you essentially get a pool of money and decide amongst a number of different options."

On Social Security, Hegseth says he would consider raising the retirement age and possibly reducing benefits for high-income Americans. He would also consider giving people the option to privately invest a small percentage of their withholding.

Pete Hegseth
Pete Hegseth announces his bid for the United States Senate at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, March 3, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

He says he's looking for solutions to insolvency, not a way to undo 1960's-era Great Society initiatives.

If people invest more in private programs, "it's because that system has worked and not because Pete Hegseth is ideologically dedicated to privatizing Social Security. I want to reform it," he says.

After Ryan first introduced his plan to change Medicare, Democrats won a special house election in what had been a safe New York State district for Republicans. The race was seen as a referendum on the Ryan plan.

Still, Hegseth is optimistic he can convince voters that changing entitlement programs is in the best long-term interest of those programs and the people who depend on them.

"I don't want to end Medicare as we know it. I don't want to take away Social Security. I'm not going to push grandma off the cliff," he says. "To the contrary."

Beyond addressing entitlement spending, Hegseth says he would work to bring down the cost of the federal government by focusing on its core responsibilities.

"The role of the federal government is limited and enumerated in the Constitution," he says. "Everything else is left to the state and to the people and we need elected officials that understand that."

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