Hartford — Democrat Chris Murphy pounced Thursday on a video of Republican Linda McMahon saying five months ago she believed in “sunset provisions” and periodic reviews for major programs like Social Security.

“This morning we learned that Linda McMahon wants to phase out Social Security,” Murphy told an audience at a senior center in the city’s North End, a talking point Democrats are certain to pursue in the U.S. Senate campaign.

McMahon’s campaign said their candidate only proposed a periodic review of Social Security, not subjecting it to an actual sunset provision: a deadline for its expiration, unless reauthorized by Congress.

“She didn’t mean sunset in terms of what most people typically think of a sunset provision of a bill,” said Todd Abrajano, her communication director.

McMahon made her comment during a public forum sponsored by the tea party in April before an audience of 80 in Waterford Town Hall. It apparently did not provoke a reaction from the other candidates, nor was it noted in local press coverage.

But it was given a fresh look Wednesday night in a piece by the Huffington Post.

“We cannot continue doing things the way we are doing with Social Security. We’re just simply going to be bankrupt,” she said. “And I do believe that, that there are ways to look at, you know, what we’re trying to do when we put Social Security in place? We didn’t go back and review it. In other words, I believe in sunset provisions when we pass this kind of legislation, so that you take a look at it 10, 15 years down the road to make sure that it’s still going to fund itself.”

It is not the first time McMahon called for periodic reviews of longstanding laws or policies, including the federal minimum wage. Her answers about the minimum wage provoked a controversy in her previous campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010.

Murphy was unwilling to pass off McMahon’s comment as a misstatement or a lack of understanding about what a sunset provision actually means.

“She gave a time frame on it. She said that she would sunset the program in 10 to 15 years,” Murphy said. “That’s a radical idea, to sunset Social Security and let it expire. I was shocked when I read that proposal. It seems by the context of it she knew exactly what she was talking about.”

Abrajano said McMahon clearly was talking about a review, not setting a deadline for expiration.

“Bills like these that create large entitlement programs should have some sort of provision that allows them to be reviewed every 10 or 15 years to ensure those programs are sustainable, and they have the funding to survive,” he said. “If that is not the case, they need to be adjusted.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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