Mark Greenberg, (file photo)

The heat was turned up in the 5th District race Wednesday as Republican Mark Greenberg, who is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty, released a new ad that takes aim at attacks on Greenberg’s position on Social Security.

Greenberg’s new ad, called “Barking Again,” shows a pup barking at a television ad.

“There they go again,” Greenberg says. “This time it’s Elizabeth Esty’s special interest attack dogs lying about my position on Social Security.”

Then Greenberg’s father says, “They’re barking up the wrong tree.”

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Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Esty campaign are running ads attacking Greenberg’s position on Social Security, saying the Republican would end guaranteed benefits for seniors.

In his latest ad, Greenberg says, “The truth, nobody loses any Social Security benefits, I’ll make sure that Social Security pays the full benefits for all seniors, right Dad?”

The ad also flashes a headline from a story that ran in the Hartford Courant Tuesday that said, “Elizabeth Esty Misleads on Social Security.” The story, one of a number the paper has published fact-checking political ads, is critical of an Esty campaign ad that, like the DCCC’s, accuses Greenberg of threatening the guarantee of Social Security benefits for seniors who qualify.

“The Hartford Courant gave Esty’s attack ad about Social Security its most ringing ‘FALSE’ rating of this campaign cycle,” said Bill Evans, Greenberg’s campaign manager. “Her distortions, her hyper-partisanship and frankly, her outright untruths about Mark and his record have crossed the boundary, as the Courant’s ’Claim Check’ confirms.”

The Esty campaign pushed back.

“The facts are very clear—Mark Greenberg called Social Security a ‘failure,’ and he wants to privatize it,” said Esty campaign spokeswoman Laura Maloney. “Even worse, he fundamentally disparages those who have earned Social Security, saying seniors who have paid into the system and earned these benefits after lifetimes of hard work are ‘on the public dole.’ What Mark Greenberg clearly doesn’t get is that Social Security is a lifeline for seniors, keeping millions out of poverty.”

When he ran for the 5th District seat two years ago, Greenberg was critical of the current “pay-as-you-go” Social Security system. He has proposed an alternative for younger people that would provide them with an option to invest money they’ve paid in Social Security taxes into an IRA or Keogh and manage their own retirement. “In that case, you’re off the public dole,” Greenberg said of his plan.

A video of a town-hall-style interview during Greenberg’s first run for Congress in April 2010 gives some detail of the plan he was proposing.

“One of the things that I would suggest with regard to Social Security is that people can opt out of what I call the public system, for a discounted payoff, as they’re called in real estate. You have a certain amount in your account — you get an indication of it every year — and based upon your age, and based upon the amount in that account, you can take a payment from the government, write a check, and then that money would go into an IRA or a Keogh or other private system of retirement.”

Proposals to partially privatize Social Security, have been put forward by some Republicans, including former President George W. Bush. But the AARP and most Democrats say even a partial privatization of the system would endanger benefits for others and leave those who chose to manage their own retirement funds at the mercy of swings in financial markets.

Greenberg’s campaign web site says, “First and foremost, we need to honor our commitment to people who have worked their entire life paying into the Social Security system, period.”

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The web site also says, “We need we have an honest discussion and a bipartisan solution to fixing the system that everyone agrees is going bankrupt, with the only question being when. These are the hard issues members of Congress are supposed to be fixing for our children and the future of our country, rather than playing politics with them as they kick the can down the road election after election.”

In each year since 1983, Social Security tax receipts and interest on loans from the Social Security Trust Fund have exceeded benefit payments and other expenditures. But unless the program is changed, there will begin to be a drawdown in the Social Security Trust Fund beginning in 2021, federal economists say, because payments will exceed receipts and interest. Improvements in the economy and other factors could push back the deadline for the trust fund’s insolvency, but right now it is estimated to go broke in about 2036 to 2038.

Projections of a drawdown are based in part on demographic changes, such as an increase in retirees as “Baby Boomers” age and the high unemployment rates in the recent recession — which led to fewer Social Security taxes collected.

Maloney said Esty supports keeping Social Security solvent in part by ending Congressional borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund and raising the income cap on Social Security taxes, now set at $117,000. When workers earn more than that amount, they are no longer subject to Social Security taxes.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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