Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick on Friday made a hurried campaign stop and met with local officials about how to get federal help in thinning the forest and getting the Forest Service to quickly sell Payson land for a college campus.
Facing a fierce challenge from Flagstaff dentist Paul Gosar, Kirkpatrick made the rounds in Payson with 11 days left before the vote in a race still considered a tossup in the polls.
Kirkpatrick lunched with Payson Mayor Kenny Evans for a strategy session on how to get the U.S. Forest Service to move quickly to sell the town a 300-acre parcel earmarked for the eventual construction of an Arizona State University campus, conference hotel and research park.
The town hopes the Forest Service will invoke waivers and other tactics to free up the land for sale quickly, using a portion of the proceeds to build new firefighting facilities near the Payson airport and an improved visitor contact facility on the existing site. Kirkpatrick and Sen. John McCain have worked with the town on the land exchange.
Kirkpatrick also hobnobbed with a small group of lunching voters at the Payson Senior Center on Main Street, mostly chatting with people one-on-one.
She also made a short campaign speech in which she vowed to protect Social Security.
“I can assure you, I am fighting to keep Social Security for you folks out there,” said Kirkpatrick, a former prosecutor, state lawmaker and lifelong resident of the district.
She said groups that have contributed heavily to Gosar’s campaign advocate the privatization of Social Security, by letting workers below a certain age divert their Social Security payroll tax into private retirement accounts invested in the stock market.
“They have spent millions to elect my opponent because they want your Social Security dollars to be managed by Wall Street,” said Kirkpatrick.
Gosar says that he opposes the privatization of Social Security and has blasted Kirkpatrick’s attacks on that point as a misleading distortion.
Gosar has attacked Kirkpatrick for supporting recent federal health care reforms that implemented changes intended to reduce fraud and waste in Medicare, which would cut the projected rate of spending increases by an estimated $500 billion over a decade. The reforms also reduced subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans, health maintenance organizations that have been receiving extra payments to encourage enrollment.
Kirkpatrick maintains the Medicare reforms won’t hurt beneficiaries, but will save money. Moreover, she touts provisions in the federal health care reforms that provided billions in increased Medicare payments for drug coverage, an effort to close the so-called “donut hole” gap in coverage once people spend $2,500 on prescription drugs.
She told the bemused retirees in Payson on Friday that Gosar has said in published remarks that the government should review the constitutionality of many federal programs, including the department of education and entitlements, which she said would include Social Security.
Gosar has countered that he does not question the constitutionality of Social Security.
Kirkpatrick said Gosar has also proposed a 10 percent cut in federal spending that would force a $73 billion cut in Social Security. In published remarks, Gosar did embrace a 10 percent, across-the-board cut in federal spending. Social Security accounts for about 20 percent of the federal budget. However, Gosar said he was only talking about a cut in “discretionary” federal spending, which did not include the military, Social Security or Medicare. That would apply the reduction to a little less than 20 percent of federal spending.
Kirkpatrick said she was frustrated Gosar had refused any joint appearances or debates and had canceled the few joint forums he had agreed to initially.
“Unfortunately, he won’t come out and debate me. He wants to dismantle Social Security and I want to fight to save it.”
She did not address the financial woes facing the federal government’s most expensive entitlement program, which will run out of money as the Baby Boomers retire.
Current projections suggest that the federal government will have to cut benefits by at least 30 percent in coming decades unless it raises the payroll tax, raises the retirement age, reduces the inflation indexing, eliminates or reduces benefits paid to wealthy retirees or raises the ceiling on the income on which people pay the Social Security tax.
Neither Kirkpatrick nor Gosar have taken a position on any of those proposed reforms.
Gosar is slated to make a speech at the Crosswinds Restaurant at the Payson Airport this Thursday at 7:30 a.m.
He was scheduled to make that appearance a week ago, but canceled at the last minute.