FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Rick Perry went there. The Texas governor has electrified the third rail of American politics by wading into a debate on Social Security.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know Perry has referred to the program as a "Ponzi scheme," "a monstrous lie," and a failure.
Social Security is perhaps the federal government's most popular program. Millions and millions of Americans rely on it as they reach retirement age. By calling it a Ponzi scheme, Perry is implying that the American people are being duped by a massive fraud.
And those are fighting words - which is probably why Perry is walking back his comments a bit.
In Monday night's debate, Perry said it's time to have a legitimate conversation about how to fix the federal program so it's not bankrupt. And in an op-ed he wrote Monday, there was no mention of a Ponzi scheme.
Here are the facts: Social Security is broken. The program will keep paying out 100% of benefits promised until about 2036. After that, if nothing is done, it would only be able to pay out three-quarters of benefits.
What's more, there were only 1.75 full-time private sector workers last year for each person receiving Social Security benefits.
Perry suggests a way to fix the program might be to raise the retirement age, or introduce a "means test" to limit payments to the rich. In the past, he's also advocated the privatization of Social Security.
Meanwhile, the other Republican candidates, especially Mitt Romney, sense a weakness here and are pouncing on Perry over the Social Security issue. Romney calls Perry's language "over the top."
And it seems that most Americans agree. A new CNN/ORC poll shows only 27% think Social Security is a lie and a failure. However, an overwhelming majority believes that changes are needed.
Interested to know which ones made it on air?
Mike in Largo, Florida:
Jack, Perry is a jerk. Social Security is a live life-line for the old and not well-off. We all know how to fix it forever: Take the earning cap off F.I.C.A. But no one has the guts to propose it.
Tom in Atlanta:
Well, it’s time someone talks about the unspeakable "third rail political topic." Perry has shocked us into openly talking about this, and I give him credit for having done so. Is it a Ponzi scheme? Well, Jack, it certainly looks like a Duck, sounds like a Duck, and walks like a Duck as well.
David in Missouri:
Jack, If I may make one small correction: Social Security BECAME a Ponzi scheme. Folks, please remember we had $3 trillion in the trust fund, cash on hand. In 30 years, Congress has spent every single dime of that money that wasn’t theirs to spend. Knowing that their IOU's were bogus… So please, let’s be very clear and truthful about WHY it became a Ponzi scheme.
Obviously Rick Perry has spent too much time at the firing range. A Ponzi scheme is where somebody takes money from somebody else for their own personal profit. Social Security is taking a small sliver of money from the taxpayers and giving it to the seniors, the people who built this country into what it is today.
Bill in New Mexico:
Only the future will determine whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. When the decision was made to not have each individual's "Social Security taxes" in an individual account accumulating interest, Social Security was well on the way to becoming a Ponzi scheme. Rick Perry has a 50-50 chance of being correct!
Randy on Facebook:
Call it what you will. The bottom line is that Social Security is set to run out of money before I retire.
Jack Cafferty sounds off hourly on the Situation Room on the stories crossing his radar. Now, you can check in with Jack online to see what he's thinking and weigh in with your own comments online and on TV.