Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton marked Veterans Day by calling for new assistance programs, but said she would move more carefully than her rivals on dealing with looming shortfalls facing the Social Security system.
Her move came as rival Barack Obama said he would lift the income ceiling on the Social Security tax. Currently, only the first $97,500 of a person's annual income is taxed; the cap is scheduled to rise to $102,000 next year.
"I know it may sound good at first blush," said Clinton. "If you look at all the complexities of this, I think it's much smarter to say: Look, we're going to deal with the challenges by fiscal responsibility and we're going to use a bipartisan commission. And we're not going to do it by further burdening middle-class families."
In an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said increasing the income ceiling would allow relatively well-off taxpayers such as himself to pay a little more to rescue the system. Clinton rejected that argument.
"If you lift the cap completely that would be a $1 trillion tax increase," Clinton told reporters after a Veterans Day event.
Clinton said she would initially end the practice of borrowing from the Social Security trust fund. She said more responsible fiscal practices could bolster the economy, which would in turn make the fund more healthy.
Obama has accused Clinton of ducking on a crucial issue, and he made a veiled reference to that at a big fundraising dinner on Saturday.
"The same old textbook campaigns just won't do in this election," Obama said. "That's why not answering questions because we're afraid our answer won't be popular just won't do."
"I think primary voters do know where I am," said Clinton. "I am for solving the long-term challenges of the Social Security trust fund."
She rejected suggestions that there are a very limited number of potential solutions.
"I don't buy that," said Clinton. "I think there are a lot of solutions with many variations."
Clinton used Veterans Day to trot out a package of assistance programs for veterans, and to tout the endorsement she's gotten from a committee of more than 1,200 veterans.
"She has been a terrific friend of the military," said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton. "She has been a terrific friend of veterans."
Clinton's package would increase educational benefits, housing assistance and job training for veterans. While veterans currently get preferences for government jobs, Clinton said she would expand that to contractors who work for the government.
"If they are being paid with taxpayer dollars, they should also hire veterans," said Clinton.