But a month after Heck told an angry crowd of Nevada seniors that Social Security is a pyramid scheme, the Republican freshman is still struggling to engage with voters without getting into trouble.
As he prepares to host his first town hall with constituents since Nevada Democrats made the Social Security gaffe public last week, Heck has waffled on whether or not the comment reflects his true feelings on one of the most popular government programs in the nation.
The town hall Wednesday night is focused on veterans, but Democrats are expected to show up in force to confront Heck about his views on Social Security.
“Congressman Heck has repeatedly stated he used a poor choice of words to describe the financial problems facing Social Security, and that has never changed,” said spokesman Darren Littell. “It’s a shame that while Nevadans face the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country, Democrats are more concerned with twisting words and playing gotcha politics than having an honest conversation about the harm the debt crisis is having on the economy, and how to fix it.”
The controversy evolved from a discussion in May with constituents on the sustainability of continuing to pay benefits to people as they live longer.
“The full retirement age is 67 and the lifespan is 80, so when they first conceived Social Security, they didn’t think they were going to be paying benefits for 13-15 years,” Heck said at the time. “That’s one of the reasons why this pyramid scheme isn’t working.”
Heck didn’t apologize when the comment was met with disapproval from his audience. But he did issue a mea culpa after Democrats began attacking him last week, claiming that he misspoke while still defending his overriding message that Social Security cannot continue unreformed.
“I regret that I misspoke,” he said in a statement. “Those who have followed my position know that I am fully committed to protecting the promise of Social Security to our seniors and those who are nearing retirement.”
Days later, he circulated a flyer during a private meeting with constituents Monday that confirmed he regretted his choice of words. But he reopened the debate Tuesday when he agreed during a local radio interview with a caller who insisted Social Security was a pyramid scheme.
Heck returned to damage control mode on another radio station Wednesday morning, saying he had not endorsed the caller’s position and insisting that “pyramid scheme” was not a term that should be applied to Social Security.
The focus on Heck’s faux pas has been amplified by Democrats, who made Heck a favorite target after he defeated Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in November.
“Clearly, Heck’s previous comment was not a gaffe but in fact Heck’s actual belief that Social Security is a ‘pyramid scheme,’” Nevada Democratic Party spokesman Zach Hudson told reporters Wednesday morning.