HALLOWELL — U.S. Sen. Angus King said Wednesday that he won’t support privatizing Social Security or instituting a voucher program for Medicare as the federal government seeks ways to reduce spending.

“The first thing I want to say, totally clearly and unequivocally: no privatization of Social Security and no voucherization of Medicare,” he said.

King spoke to about 50 senior citizens at the Spectrum Generations Cohen Community Center in Hallowell, where the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare is circulating petitions to urge King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to protect the benefit programs.

King said health care costs in general are the biggest reason for the deficit.

“It’s health care expenditures that are killing us,” he said. “Not Medicare per se, not Medicaid, but just health care in general. We need to do something about the underlying cost of health care for everybody.”

He also noted that the March 1 deadline that will trigger $85 billion in federal spending cuts is arbitrary, and said it should be extended.

Social Security and Medicare are exempt from the cuts that will take effect if Congress fails to act.

But Max Richtman, president of the national group, said he’s concerned about a compromise that could be struck between President Obama and Congress that could cut both programs.

“Social Security hasn’t added to the debt and deficit,” he said.

Materials handed out by the group indicate that the program can pay benefits fully through 2033, and Richtman said that leaves plenty of time to craft a long-term solution. Among the possible solutions is to eliminate gradually the cap on payroll contributions, which is set at $113,700, and raise the contribution rate from 6.2 percent to 7.2 percent.

King said he would consider raising the cap on payroll contributions because it hasn’t kept pace with incomes.

Staffers for Collins and Democratic U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree attended Wednesday’s meeting in Hallowell.

In remarks to the group, Richtman said Social Security has a $2.7 trillion trust fund that makes the program stable.

The petition presented to King reads, in part: “Social Security and Medicare belong to the people who have worked hard all their lives and contributed to the programs — not to the politicians in Washington who want to use them as a piggy bank.”

In a news release, the group cites “some in Washington who have proposed cutting benefits by raising the retirement age for Social Security, the eligibility age for Medicare, means testing and cutting the cost of living allowance to cut the deficit.”

Richtman said, “The thing that troubles me so much is these recommendations come from people who are disconnected from the average American citizen.

Susan Cover — 621-5643:
[email protected]