James Gill: Cassidy learns perils of honesty _lowres

FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2014, file photo, Senate candidate, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., speaks at a campaign stop at VFW Post 5951in Bossier City, La. An old political stand-by _ the future of Medicare _ is emerging as the go-to attack in Louisiana’s bitter Senate race as the candidates woo seniors who typically wield strong influence in midterm elections. “The $700 billion that Obamacare cut from Medicare spends it on other programs,” Cassidy said, referring to the law shifting some health care spending to premium subsidies for working-age policy holders. “The $700 billion in the Ryan budget puts it back into the trust fund.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Sen. Mary Landrieu is wheeling out the geezers in her quest for re-election, while her would-be replacement, Congressman Bill Cassidy, harps on her record of voting with President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time.

When it comes to bogus issues, the parties are running neck and neck.

Landrieu hopes the oldsters will turn out in force to reject the threat that Cassidy allegedly poses to their Social Security benefits. She has scored an endorsement from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which, while not quite as influential as AARP, knows how to mobilize golden-agers.

It was inevitable that Cassidy would be lambasted for his proposals on Social Security, for they are sensible, and may even be crucial to its survival. Telling the truth on the campaign trail is always a risky strategy.

His 97 percent line is an effective one, however. The GOP evidently thinks so, and is trotting it out all over the country where Democratic senators are up for re-election. Thus, Al Franken in Minnesota and Mark Warner in Virginia are under similar attack for allegedly being in lockstep with the dreaded Obama. But an amazing coincidence, voting record analyses never come up with 96 or 98; 97 is the number that works every time.

It may even be accurate, but it means little. An examination of votes on significant or controversial questions of public policy might yield a much different result. This tally includes pro-forma votes, nod-through appointments and all manner of humdrum legislation.

Besides, it is hardly surprising for Democratic senators to be sympathetic to the policies of a Democratic president. George W. Bush could generally count on the loyalty of GOP senators, and he would hardly have expected otherwise.

Still, Obama is so low in the polls that he comes in very handy for hanging around the neck of Democratic candidates, and there is no doubt that, if you ask Cassidy his favorite number, he will tell you 97. It may be intellectually dishonest, but let’s not be too fussy this close to Election Day.

Cassidy, meanwhile, is getting the rough side of Landrieu’s tongue for suggesting the age at which full Social Security benefits are payable be raised a further three years to 70.

Landrieu was whipping them into a fervor at a Council-on-Aging meeting last week, when the most impassioned denunciations of Cassidy’s proposal came from audience members who would not be affected by it. The raise he favors in the retirement age would be phased in long after anyone currently at or near retirement age had passed 70.

Landrieu, as Cassidy’s website was quick to point out, appears to have changed her mind on the issue, having signalled her approval of the law that raised the eligibility age from 65 to 67. She also last year endorsed the so-called Simpson-Bowles budget plan, which envisages several Social Security cutbacks, although the age hikes it advocates are only of academic interest to the Council-on-Aging members of today. The plan is to raise the age to 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075.

But nobody doubts that Social Security is headed for insolvency unless some retrenchments are made, because Americans are living and drawing benefits longer while the working stiffs who pay the bills are in short supply. It has been blindingly obvious for years that there are not enough people kicking off or kicking in to sustain the system, and Cassidy can hardly be gainsaid when he says the retirement age must go up if the system is to survive.

It may be true, as Landrieu points out, that “there are some jobs that are hard and people cannot work until 70,” but Social Security provides for disability too and no doubt some provision could be made for the horny-handed sons of toil.

Retirement is the big issue in this election so far as Republicans are concerned, for that is what they are increasingly confident of inflicting on Landrieu. She would not have survived three terms were she not a tough campaigner, but, as Louisiana’s only Democratic statewide elected official, she is beginning to look like an anachronism, and the polls are not encouraging. They say she comes first in the primary, but, once it is head-to-head with Cassidy, she is a goner.

Pollsters may not be in infallible, but they seem to get it right about 97 percent of the time.

James Gill can be reached at jgill@theadvocate.com.