Washington (CNN)Democrats blasted Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday for arguing that a majority of people collecting Social Security disability benefits are taking advantage of the system.
Democrats hit Rand Paul for disability comments
Speaking at a New Hampshire diner about government waste, the Kentucky Republican said "there's always somebody who's deserving" of entitlement programs, "But everybody in this room knows somebody who's 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 of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts -- join the club," he said, drawing a few laughs from the audience. "Who doesn't get a little anxious for work everyday and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has back pain."
Paul qualified his comments, saying there are people who are legitimately disabled but reiterated that there are also "malingers" who are essentially taking money "from the people who are paraplegic, quadriplegic."
"We all know people who are horrifically disabled and can't work, but if you have able-bodied people taking the money then there's not enough money left for the people who are truly disabled," he added.
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, was quick to pounce on his comments, saying in a call with reporters that the remark was "ridiculously reminiscent" of Mitt Romney's controversial argument in 2012 that nearly half of Americans back Obama because they rely on government support.
Buckley acknowledged that there is fraud in the system but argued that Paul's estimation that more than half of beneficiaries shouldn't qualify was "way out of nowhere" and a "detachment from reality."
According to a December 2014 report from the Social Security Administration, 14% of those who were issued disability benefits were diagnosed with "mood disorders," while 28% reported "musculoskeletal system and connective tissue" diseases, which would be related to back problems.
Critics argue that the list of ailments covered by disability benefits is bloated and far too easy to take advantage of, resulting in millions of dollars in over-payments.
Proponents say there are strict standards in place to approve applicants. According to a 2013 SSA report, denied disability claims have averaged 59% from 2003-2012.
Asked to respond to Democratic attacks, Paul later reiterated that the government "should take care of those truly in need of help" but stressed that the "system is broken."
"We absolutely should take care of those truly in need of help," he said in a statement to CNN, responding to a request for a response to Democratic attacks. "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. We must reform the system to ensure that those who really need help receive it."