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Social Security, abortion divide congressional candidates

Saturday, November 1, 2008 | 9:11 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The major-party candidates for Missouri's 9th District congressional seat have clashed often over three issues in the campaign: Social Security, abortion rights and stem-cell research.

The race between 25th District state Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia and Republican candidate Blaine Luetkemeyer, a former state representative,  has been heated. Libertarian Tamara Millay is also on the ballot but has not actively campaigned.

On Social Security, Luetkemeyer said he would consider a plan similar to the one proposed by President George W. Bush that would allow workers younger than 55 to voluntarily invest a small portion of their Social Security payments into the Federal Thrift Savings Program used by federally elected officials.

Baker and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have released television ads criticizing Luetkemeyer for this plan, which they say is tantamount to privatizing Social Security. Luetkemeyer has repeatedly rejected that argument, emphasizing that his plan would be voluntary and wouldn't affect the retirements of seniors who already receive benefits.

"That's a contract with our senior citizens," he said at a debate in Dardenne Prairie. "That contract is something that is very, very fragile and is something that we have to continue to adhere to."

Baker has said she would work hard to keep retirement payments secure, and she opposes efforts to privatize, regardless of whether they're voluntary.

"The Social Security privatization that they've been talking about for now almost eight years is one big distraction to the problem," Baker said.

Baker said the issue of Social Security is closely tied to the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid.

Her campaign has said supporting preventative medicine and other cost-cutting measures in the health-care industry would free up federal money to stabilize Social Security and keep it solvent. One way Baker plans to cut costs is to allow Medicare Part D to negotiate prices with drug companies, a maneuver proponents say could save hundreds of billions of dollars.

Baker has been endorsed by The Alliance for Retired Americans, a senior citizen advocacy group.

Baker and Luetkemeyer also have clear differences about abortion rights. Luetkemeyer has received endorsements from Missouri Right to Life and Missourians United for Life for his ardent opposition to abortion.

"I remain proud of my strong, proven record of successfully standing up for the rights of Missouri's unborn and standing strong against abortionists," Luetkemeyer said.

Baker supports abortion rights, but her campaign has said it isn't a simple black-and-white issue.

"It's not ‘yes' or ‘no' for Judy," campaign spokesman Paul Tencher said. "Judy believes that nobody is for abortion. Her entire career has been spent trying to reduce unwanted pregnancies and expanding adoptions."

Baker also said she supports stem cell research. "She's in favor of research that can cure some of the worst diseases of our time," Tencher said. "She knows that stem cell research, although controversial in some aspects, holds great potential to cure some substantial diseases that people are suffering from."

Luetkemeyer said he opposes what his campaign has called "life-destroying embryonic stem-cell research."


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