Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde said he supported forcing the wealthiest Americans to give up some or all of their Social Security benefits as part of his plan to eliminate the federal government's persistent deficits.
Hovde's comments differed slightly from the three other Republicans vying for Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat, who each spoke with WISC-TV in the week leading up to the Aug. 14 primary. The four shared similar views on taxes, saying they would either vote to retain or decrease the current tax rates.
The winner of Tuesday's primary will face U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is unopposed in next week's primary, in November.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann said they would oppose any plan to allow tax cuts passed during the George W. Bush administration to expire. Hovde, a hedge fund manager, and state Assembly speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said they favored eliminating the current income tax structure. Both supported a 10 percent rate for lower earners and a 25 percent rate for higher earners.
Hovde said he would pay for the tax cuts by eliminating some tax breaks and forcing Americans to make sacrifices.
"We do need to do something called means testing, which is where people like myself who have been blessed in life economically give up a portion or maybe all of our Social Security so that other people can have theirs," he said.
Thompson, who was Wisconsin's governor from 1987 to 2001, said as a senator, he would welcome the wealthiest Americans to the table.
"I want to build the economy, and I don't want anyone saying, 'Well, that guy made too much money so we're going to sock it to him. We're going to have him pay more taxes,' Thompson said in an interview at the Avenue Bar in Madison, before greeting supporters. "Let's get beyond it, let's build the economy, and then we can have the opportunity and discussion on what we need to do (on taxes)."
Neumann, who was in Congress during the 1990s when the federal budget was last balanced, said a similar goal could be achieved today by spending cuts, not tax increases.
"We passed the biggest single tax cut in the history of the U.S. almost simultaneously with the balanced budget plan (in 1997)," he said. "It was one day apart -- they were really two bills in one."
The economic expansion of the 1990s also had a large impact on the budget situation, because it allowed the government to take in more in corporate and income taxes, WISC-TV reported. The current economy, with a July unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, is less robust.
Fitzgerald, who acknowledged he was trailing in recent polls, suggested that Americans were willing to endure major policy changes to improve the country's financial health. He pointed to legislation passed in Wisconsin during his time as Assembly speaker that limited bargaining rights for most public employee unions as a dramatic decision that needed to be made.
"I believe that we don't have a taxing problem and a revenue problem in Washington, DC, we have a spending problem, and that's the same thing we faced here in Wisconsin," he said. "But we proved it just now. A $3.6 billion deficit, and we didn't raise taxes and now we have a surplus."