Paul Ryan (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)DES MOINES, Iowa—Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan has argued for an overhaul of the federal Social Security program that would include private retirement accounts, but there is little indication that his running mate, Mitt Romney, will embrace Ryan's plan in full if elected in November.
As a House member during the George W. Bush administration, Ryan was one of the chief proponents of changing the federal pension program to allow workers to invest part of their income into private investment accounts, while retaining the safety net currently available to retirees. In 2004, Ryan sponsored a bill with New Hampshire Republican Sen. John Sununu that would give workers the option to invest part of their payroll taxes into private accounts. Bush embraced a watered-down version of the plan, but it ultimately failed in Congress.
But while Social Security has been one of Ryan's key issues for several years, Romney has not made transforming the program a central part of his campaign. The former Massachusetts governor has discussed changes to the system, including allowing investment in the market, but has not given the idea the full-throated endorsement of his new No. 2.
The official Romney campaign website lists two solutions that Romney intends to implement: raising the retirement age and means-testing the program, which would provide fewer benefits to wealthy retirees who don't need to rely on the funds. (Romney is always careful to point out that any changes to the system would not apply to current retirees.)
In his 2010 book, "No Apology," which is not so much a strict policy treatise as an outline of possible solutions, Romney discussed raising the retirement age and means-testing, but also mentioned allowing private accounts for younger workers.
"[O]ne or a combination of these last three options will put Social Security on track to sustainably meet its obligations to current and future retirees," Romney wrote.
When asked at a town-hall meeting in 2011 if he supports "privatization" of Social Security, Romney backed away from support, saying that he only mentioned it as an idea that others had floated. Instead, he proposed offering more opportunities for middle class families to invest in the market without paying taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains, but not within the confines Social Security
"Privatizing Social Security, that doesn't make sense," Romney said at the time. "There have been some people who have said, Let people save part of their money and invest it. The market goes up and down. I kind of like the system we have in that regard. It would be nice if people could take a portion of their income and save it tax free."
At a Republican presidential debate during Romney's first run for president in 2007, he discussed raising the retirement age and means-testing the program, and he also said that the Bush proposal to allow private accounts "works."
"The president said let's have private accounts and take that surplus money that's being gathered now in Social Security and put that into private accounts," he said. "That works."
A spokeswoman for Romney's campaign told Yahoo News that Romney has a "comprehensive plan" for Social Security, but did not respond when asked if private accounts would be included.
"The Social Security Trustees project that the program will continue to run deficits until 2033, at which point the program's funds will be completely exhausted," said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. "Without a plan to protect Americans who rely on Social Security, seniors in 2033 will see their benefits cut 25 percent because of President Obama's inaction. We cannot allow this to happen. Mitt Romney is committed to ensuring that Social Security is there for future generations and he has a comprehensive plan to save Social Security with commonsense reforms."
The daylight between the two men, it seems, is not so much in the policy but in their enthusiasm for it. It seems clear, given the way Romney has chosen to address Social Security, that Ryan's ambitious plan may have to spend more time on the shelf.
This article has been updated to include comment from the Romney campaign.