MANCHESTER — Just a few hours into his first presidential campaign-style visit to New Hampshire Wednesday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was taken to task by Democrats for saying that “over half the people on disability” do not deserve to receive federal assistance.
Leading the criticism was New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Raymond Buckley, who is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. He called Paul’s comments “ridiculously reminiscent” of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comments that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on the government and would never vote for him.
At Murphy’s Diner in Manchester Wednesday morning, Paul discussed how to cut federal spending, saying that that many states are doing a better job than the federal government on everything from building bridges to assisting the disabled.
He then addressed fraud in the Social Security Disability Insurance system.
“You know the thing is that all of these programs – there’s always somebody who is deserving,” he said. “Everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system. What I tell people is if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check.
“Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a back pain.”
The Democratic National Committee, which had a tracker at the event, released 28-second video snippet of the comments and said they were “eerily reminiscent” of the Romney remarks that damaged his chances in the last presidential general election.
The DNC video did not include Paul’s additional comments on the subject at the diner. He said:
“I’m not saying there aren’t legitimately people who are disabled, but people who are the malingerers are the ones who are taking the money away from the people who are paraplegic. We all know there are people who are horrifically disabled and can’t work, but if able-bodied people are taking the money, then there’s not enough money left for people who are truly disabled.”
Buckley said the additional comments did nothing to change Paul’s assertion that more than half of those on the program are doing so fraudulently.
“He’s saying that 50 percent are frauds, he’s not saying that for that 1 percent or 2 percent,” Buckley said. “He’s saying 50 percent of those receiving disability assistance are simply frauds. That is an outrageous statement. It’s reminiscent of what Mitt Romney said when he said that 47 percent are dependent on government.”
He said the comments were “out of nowhere” and “a detachment from reality.”
In response to the criticism, Paul spokesman Eleanor May issued a statement from Paul saying, “We absolutely should take care of those truly in need of help. But the system is broken, and when people can game the system, they are stealing from those who are truly disabled and won’t receive the care and aid they need.”
She said the Paul’s team would provide the source of his assertion that more than 50 percent of those who are on the program are frauds.
Registered nurse and disability rights advocate Laurie McCray said that Social Security Disability Insurance has strict guidelines and, she said, according to the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, fewer than four of every 10 people who apply are approved, even after exhausting appeals.
Buckley said Paul’s comment were “not only insulting to the millions of Americans and countless people here in New Hampshire with disabilities, but they are indicative of his governing philosophy,” noting that Paul several years ago said he was uncertain whether he would have supported the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“He isn’t a leader who wants to help Americans to get a fair shot,” Buckley said. “He fails to understand that government actions, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Civil Rights Act, are critical for helping people achieve fairness, rights and equality under the law.
“Rand Paul has yet again proven that he’s not any new type of Republican,” Buckley said. “When it comes to helping expand opportunity, he’s no better and no different than Mitt Romney.”
McCray, the mother of a 25-year-old son with Down Syndrome, a hearing impairment and “numerous and complex health issues,” said she was “appalled” that Paul “made fun of and belittled people with disabilities.
“I have never met or have known anyone who has gamed the system,” she said. “Senator Paul’s ignorance on the subject shows just how little of a clue he has about the struggles of everyday Americans.”
DNC spokesman Ian Sams said the comments showed Paul was trying to perform “a delicate dance” by saying that he wants to “broaden GOP outreach and attract new people into the party but then gears his first visit to New Hampshire toward gun rights groups and a Common Core town hall – issues that are just darling to the base of the GOP.
“It’s a comment that is out of touch with voters, with people who have disabilities and it’s just another example of Rand Paul trying to have it both ways.”