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As a man who celebrated his 72nd birthday last month, GOP presidential nominee John McCain could speak about retirement-related issues with personal authority. After all, according to a report by the Associated Press, the Arizona Senator receives about $1,930 in Social Security payments each month.

But McCain has not been a force on Social Security or other entitlements. When President Bush made his push to modernize Social Security in 2005, McCain stayed silent.

His committee assignments, of course, don’t lend themselves to these issues.

[IMGCAP(1)] McCain is ranking member on the Armed Services Committee and also serves on both the Commerce, Science and Transportation and Indian Affairs committees. His legislative strengths, foreign relations and regulatory issues, have been in line with those assignments.

McCain appears to mostly agree with the president’s dire assessment of Social Security, although his campaign did not return several calls to comment on his views.

On occasion, in fact, his rhetoric has gotten him in trouble.

In July, he told a Denver audience that the state of Social Security is an “absolute disgrace,” provoking an outcry from Democratic groups that quickly mobilized to remind the Republican candidate of Bush’s failure to revamp Social Security in 2005. He tempered the statement later, saying young adults paying into the system now may not receive its benefits later.

Ironically, McCain tangled with Bush over Social Security in a candidate forum leading up to the Iowa caucus in early 2000, when both men were running for the Republican presidential nomination.

At that time, the Senator referred to Social Security as “a ticking time bomb” and suggested that Bush would cut taxes too much after that year’s tax surplus. He wanted to direct most of the surplus to Social Security and Medicare.

In 2008, McCain’s language on entitlements has taken on a more generalized tone; he makes clear in his public comments that he wants to consider all options and work toward a bipartisan compromise.

In a McCain budget, entitlements would get less funding, according to McCain’s official Web site and previous public comments. He has proposed raising the age seniors become eligible for Medicare and requiring them to pay a higher percentage of their premiums.

McCain was among 44 Senators who voted against Bush’s major Medicare legislation in late 2003, claiming he was frustrated that the bill would not allow the government to negotiate for lower drug prices.

McCain’s other ideas on entitlements are well within the reformist mainstream: He has called for more accountability at every level, from doctors to hospitals, and to withhold payment in cases of preventable medical mistakes.

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