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Sep 19, 2016 10:51 PM

On Social Security, Ayotte and Hassan agree on some policy, clash on the politics

NH1 News Political Director

GOFFSTOWN – They agreed that bipartisanship’s needed to fix Social Security, and they concurred on some ideas to keep it solvent, but Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, disagreed over the politics behind the issue as they took part in their first forum in New Hampshire’s blockbuster U.S. Senate race.

The two candidates Monday appeared separately an AARP hosted forum on Social Security that was held at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

The Republican incumbent said that she’s receptive to a number of solutions, such as raising the cap on the payroll tax.

“I’m very open to raising the cap,” Ayotte told the audience. “It’s about $118,000 right now and looking at that as a part of broader package on reforms that preserve the viability, yes.”

Hassan concurred, saying “the cap for millionaires and billionaires could be raised. I think they could pay into it year round the way the most of the rest of us do. I think that would be a very good approach to take.”

According to the Social Security Trustees, if no action is taken by 2034, benefits would need to be cut by nearly 25%.

While the two candidates discussed plenty of policy, it was the politics that sparked fireworks.

Ayotte topped her opening comments on the issue by declaring “I myself have been disappointed already in the Senate race that there have been millions and millions of dollars spent by my opponent and her allies attacking me on Medicare and Social Security. They’re not true because my interest is in working together to preserve Social Security and Medicare.”

The showdown between Ayotte and Hassan is one of the most high profile, expensive, and negative U.S. Senate races in the country. And third party groups have spent tens of millions of dollars to run mostly negative TV ads in the race. Some of the spots that have targeted Ayotte criticize her for trying to weaken Social Security.

Taking questions from reporters following the forum, Hassan was asked by NH1 News about Ayotte’s comment.

The governor responded that Ayotte “has stood right with corporate special interests to undermine social security and to balance the budget on the backs of our seniors. Her record is very clear. She says she’s open to raising the retirement age. She has worked and voted in ways to undermine Social Security and balance the budget on the backs of our seniors.”

And defending her own recent TV commercials that criticize Ayotte, Hassan said that “at least ads from my campaign are very specific about her record and she tries in this election year to change what she’s actually done in Washington."

"She says one thing here and she does something different in Washington and that's one of the things voters need to understand," Hassan added.

But Ayotte, who has yet to run a contrast spot on television, accused her Democratic challenger of going negative.

“It’s been unfortunate. She wants to run a negative campaign. We’ve been running positive vision for the results I want to get the people of New Hampshire,” the senator told NH1 News. “I think it says something we’re you’re running a negative campaign. What’s your positive vision for how you are going to represent the people of New Hampshire.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte speaks at a forum on social security at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on Sept. 19, 2016

Gov. Maggie Hassan speaks at a forum on social security at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on Sept. 19, 2016

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