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Social Security no longer a 'monstrous lie'? Why Rick Perry is shifting. (VIDEO)

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry had questioned the very foundations of Social Security before Monday's debate. His new, softer stance is a bow to political reality.

By Staff writer / September 13, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry makes a statement during the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa, Fla., Monday.

Scott Audette/REUTERS

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Is Rick Perry changing his position on Social Security? It sounded as if he might be doing just that at Monday’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa, Fla.

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In the past the Texas governor has called the huge federal retirement program a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” But he didn’t use such inflammatory language on Monday night. Instead, he echoed the structure of an opinion article he’d published in that day’s USA Today.

First, he reassured seniors and those close to retirement that he’s not in favor of changing current benefits.

“Slam dunk, guaranteed, that program is going to be there” for such individuals, Governor Perry told the audience of tea party adherents.

Then he said he would tell younger workers the truth: The system is broken and needs to be reformed.

He concluded “we’re going to fix it,” without offering any specific policy prescriptions other than a national conversation on the subject.

Pretty much every politician in Washington, Republican or Democrat, could have said the same thing, challenger Mitt Romney pointed out.

“What he just said, I think most people agree with,” said Mr. Romney following Perry’s Social Security answer.

Romney then hammered at the issue, bringing up passages from Perry’s recent book, “Fed Up!” in which the Texas governor questions whether Social Security is constitutional and urges that it be taken away from the federal government and given back to the states.

Perry would not get drawn into that fight. “We ought to have a conversation with...." he said at one point.

Romney interrupted him. “We’re having that right now, governor ... we’re running for president,” he said.

So why has Perry changed his tone? Just last week, in the Reagan library debate, he used the “monstrous lie” line. Now he’s sounding like a panelist in a Brookings Institution seminar titled, “Whither Entitlements?”

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