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2nd District candidates support keeping Social Security, Medicare

Debbie Halvors(center) speaks during Illinois 2nd Congressional District candidate debate hosted by AARP Victory Apostolic Church MattesMonday February 18 2013.

Debbie Halvorson (center) speaks during the Illinois 2nd Congressional District candidate debate, hosted by AARP, at Victory Apostolic Church in Matteson Monday, February 18, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 20, 2013 6:44AM

Speaking before an audience brought together Monday by the AARP, 11 candidates vying for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s former congressional seat weighed in on the future of Social Security and Medicare.

In a wide-ranging debate, the majority of candidates for the 2nd Congressional District seat said they favored keeping such benefits intact, but they want to find ways to reduce inefficiencies throughout the system.

“We need to put affordability back in health care,” said Robin Kelly, of Matteson. “It’s not the problem itself, but the soaring costs.”

The forum was held at the Victory Apostolic Church in Matteson. Also participating in the debate were Chicago Ald. Anthony Beale (9th); Ernest Fenton; Victor Jonathan; Debbie Halvorson; Larry Pickens; Joyce Washington; the Rev. Anthony Williams; Fatimah Muhammad, and Republicans Beverly Reid and Eric Wallace.

They are competing for the seat vacated by Jackson, who resigned in November and was charged last week with misusing $750,000 in campaign funds. A special primary election is on Feb. 26 and the general election is April 9.

Opening the forum, the candidates were asked how they would address Social Security if elected.

Beale said he would change the laws so that people who make more than $250,000 would pay more money into Social Security.

“Right now, we constantly send rich people to Washington, D.C.,” Beale said. “It’s a rich people’s club.”

Halvorson, a former member of Congress, said more women would be impoverished and homeless if it weren’t for Social Security. She vowed never to raise the retirement age.

“It makes me sick people want to tinker with it,” Halvorson said. “People are already working backbreaking jobs.”

Kelly said she also opposed raising the retirement age, but she endorsed borrowing from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund to maintain adequate Social Security funding levels.

Reid said she was tired of seeing Social Security used as a “political football” during the campaign. She said Social Security needed to be protected for future generations.

“At some point between 2035 and 2050, the system will run dry,” Reid said. “It’s the best domestic program the country ever had. I need it, and you need it, too.”

To maintain money for Social Security, Wallace said there should be a means test for those who receive it. People who make enough money shouldn’t receive the assistance, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure it’s still viable for those like myself so that when I’m 80 years old, the benefits will still be there,” Wallace said.

Williams suggested creating a federal lottery, making the winnings tax-free, and using the cash generated from sales to fund Social Security, Medicare and other federal programs.

Kelly said that Medicare expenses could be reduced by eliminating waste and fraud.

“We need to look up bulk buying power and technology because there’s duplicate services we don’t need,” Kelly said.

Fenton also recommended cracking down on health costs, whether for prescription medicine or doctor visits.

“It’s absurd that if you go to the hospital and you need an aspirin, they will charge you $30 for a pill of aspirin,” Fenton said. “We need to redo this thing from the inside out.”

Later in the debate, the conversation turned to gun violence. Beale said that, if elected, he would toughen gun laws to make it harder for dealers to sell guns at gun shows.

“The National Rifle Association has made sure more guns are going out the back door than coming in front door,” Beale said, promising to bring Chicago-style laws banning semi-automatic guns to Washington, D.C.

To curb violence, Johnson said he wanted to expand after-school programs and jobs to teenagers and young adults.

“We need to get them off the street corners so they won’t be shooting at you on purpose or on accident,” Johnson said.

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