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Best exchange yet: Ponzi scheme v. Social Security. Perry v. Romney

Here's the best exchange in a presidential debate in years between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry over his comments about Social Security and whether it's a Ponzi scheme.

Perry: “The people who are on Social Security today need to understand something -- slam dunk guarantee… that program is going to be there for them when they arrive there. But the idea that we have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face, young mid-career professionals or kids that are my children age and looked them in the eye and said, ‘Listen, this is a broken system.’ It has been called a Ponzi scheme by many people long before me. But no one’s had the courage to stand up and say, ‘Here is how we’re going to reform it. We’re going to reform it.’… But we’re going to fix it. So that our young Americans that are going out into the workforce today will know without a doubt that there are some people who came along that didn’t lie to them that didn’t try to go around the edges and told them the truth.”

Blitzer: To Romney, you’ve called Perry’s position “unacceptable,” and it could obliterate the Republican Party.

Romney: … “The term Ponzi scheme, I think, is over the top and unnecessary and frightful to many people. But the real issue is that right in his book, Gov. Perry pointed out that in his view that Social Security is unconstitutional, that this is not something the federal government ought to be involved in, that instead it should be given back to the states. And I think that view and the view that somehow Social Security has been forced on us over the past 70 years and that by any measure – again, quoting from his book – ‘by any measure Social Security has been a failure.’ This is after 70 years of tens of millions of people relying on Social Security. That’s a very different matter…. The real question is, does Gov. Perry continue to believe that Social Security should not be a federal program, that it’s unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states? Or is he going to retreat from that, too?”

Perry: “If what you’re trying to say is back in the 30s and 40s the federal government made all the right decisions, I disagree with you (applause). And it’s time for us to get back to the constitution (applause). And a program that’s been there 70 or 80 years, obviously, we’re not going to take that program away. But for people to stand up and support what they did in the 30s or what they’re doing in the 2010s is not appropriate for America.”

Romney: “But the question is: Do you still believe Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago -- when your book came out – and returned to the states. Or do you want to retreat from that?

Perry: “I think we ought to have a conversation.”

Romney: “We’re having that right now.”

Perry: “Yes.. I’ll finish that conversation. The issue is: Are there ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or retirees. We did in the state of Texas back in the 1980s. I think those types of thoughtful conversations with America rather than trying to scare seniors like you’re doing and other people (applause). It’s time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix that program so where it’s not bankrupt and our children know there’s going to be a retirement program there for them.”

Romney: “Governor, the term Ponzi scheme is what scares seniors, Number 1. And Number 2: Suggesting Social Security should no longer be a federal program and returned to the states because it’s unconstitutional is likewise frightening. There are a lot of bright people who agree with you. And that’s you view. I happen to have a one. I think Social Security is an essential program, that we should change the way we fund it…”

Perry: You called it criminal. You said if people did it in the private sector it would be called criminal. That’s what you said in your book. (Applause)

Romney: “What I said was…. (Applause) Gov. Perry, you’ve got to quote me correctly. You said it’s criminal. What I said was Congress taking money out of the Social Security Trust Fund is like criminal. And it is. It’s wrong.”