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McCain: Social security a 'disgrace'?

AP reports: "Like many other politicians, McCain often questions the long-term viability of the government retirement program. But he raised eyebrows with an unusually harsh assessment Monday at a town-hall forum in Denver. Asked by a young woman if she is likely to receive Social Security benefits someday, McCain said it was unlikely 'unless we fix it.'"

More: "'Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today,' he said. 'And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.'"

"Speaking to reporters on his campaign bus Wednesday in Ohio, McCain went into greater detail. Young workers, he said, 'are paying into a system that they won't receive benefits from on the present track that it's on. That's the point. I don't think it's fair. I think it's terrible.' 'That's why we have to fix it,' McCain said, pointing to a 1983 bipartisan agreement that bolstered Social Security for a while by cutting benefits and raising taxes." 

The Washington Post adds, "John McCain once said economics was not his strong suit. Well, today, Social Security became a problem for the presumptive Republican nominee, too… If that payment system is a disgrace, it has been one since Social Security was created during the Great Depression. For as long as the popular program has existed, today's workers have paid the benefits of today's retirees… Reaction to McCain's statement has been slow to burble, but it is beginning to burst."

McCain is known for bus rides where he will happily chat about anything. But one question posed Wednesday afternoon on the Straight Talk Express made McCain clearly uncomfortable, NBC/NJ's Matthew E. Berger reports. Maeve Reston of the Los Angeles Times -- the pool reporter on the bus -- asked McCain about comments adviser Carly Fiorina made earlier this week, calling it unfair that insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control.

"I certainly do not want to discuss that issue," McCain said to nervous laughter, according to the pool report. He went on to say he did not know what he voted for on the issue. "I'll look at my voting record on it," he said, before an extended pause. "I don't recall the vote right now. But I'll be glad to look at it and get back to you as to why." Pressed by Reston whether it was fair that some insurance companies cover the erectile dysfunction medication but not birth control, he gave another long pause, clocked at eight seconds.

"I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don't recall the vote, I've cast thousands of votes in the Senate," he said. Reston went on to describe it as a "delicate issue," to more laughter, this time described in the pool report as "relieved laughter."

"It's something that I had not thought much about and I did hear about her response but I hadn't thought much," McCain said. "But I will get, I will get back to you today on it.

"I don't usually duck an issue, but I'm, I'll try to get back to you," he said.