Throughout the 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has argued against raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare and suggested he wouldn't make any major changes to either program.
Just three years ago, however, Huckabee wrote in his book that the programs were never intended to support the long retirements that have come with increased life expectancy, and that major changes were necessary in order to keep both programs afloat.
"When I hear people say, 'lets just raise the age, make them work longer, or lets cut their benefits' – and that was a decision that a couple of the candidates had – I was dying to get in there, " Huckabee told Breitbart News earlier this year. "To my knowledge, I'm the one Republican on the stage who believes that we don't go changing the rules in the middle of the game for the people who have been paying in all these years."
In op-ed published on Fox News on Wednesday, Huckabee argued against any changes to Social Security or Medicare, writing, "Sadly, the establishment elites treat Social Security and Medicare like WELFARE benefits. This is completely unacceptable, appalling, and flat-out wrong—these are EARNED benefits. Seniors are getting stabbed in the back while the Washington Republican establishment tells them it's a back massage! One of my fellow candidates has told Americans to 'get over it' when it comes to cutting Social Security and Medicare. Another has proposed cutting benefits to current seniors, even those who worked more than 50 years paying into the system."
Huckabee took a much different approach to both programs in his 2011 book, Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion That We Don't!). Huckabee wrote that the U.S. government needs to raise the retirement age for Social Security and reduce the programs benefits for those still in their twenties, thirties and forties. Huckabee also expressed support for turning Medicare into a voucher system.
"What can be done," Huckabee wrote. "Well, for those already retired or close to retirement age, it's too late to change benefits. That door is closed. But it is fair to ask people in their twenties, thirties, and forties — in light of radically changed life expectancy — to plan for a different kind of future, including the responsibility to provide more for their eventual retirement. For one thing, the retirement age has to be raised. For another, the benefits will have to be adjusted downward."
Earlier in the book, Huckabee wrote it was "a dirty little secret" that Social Security was devised in a time when people had short life expectancy and weren't expected to live into their seventies.
"Here's a dirty little secret: Social Security was never intended to finance retirements lasting decades," Huckabee wrote. "When the legislation was passed in 1935, and the retirement age was set at sixty-five, life expectancy was in the late fifties for men, early sixties for women. See that? It was assumed that most people would be dead before they could qualify!"
"No one imagined those legions of healthy, lithe retirees you see in TV ads playing golf, boating, running marathons," he continued. "Today, life expectancy for average Americans has reached the late seventies, and many of us will live at least a decade or two longer. This is a blessing, especially if you're healthy, but you can no longer expect the government to support you for twenty or thirty years. The original financial calculations didn't allow for that eventuality. It's that simple."
On Medicare, Huckabee wrote, "we could switch to vouchers for Medicare; that way, recipients would be able to buy private insurance in the marketplace. Also, we should recognize that, just like Social Security, the Medicare program has not kept pace with the increases in life expectancy."
"We should raise the age of eligibility," he continued. "I know that's not politically smart to say, but I promised you I would do my best to talk sense in this book! This society likes to boast that age sixty is the 'new forty,' because people live better and longer. Fine, so if we feel as good as we did at forty when we turn sixty, shouldn't we be able to stay active and productive by continuing to work for a few more years? That would make it even more likely that the benefits will be there waiting when we reach the age or condition when we really do need them."