Robin Smith, a Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District seat, says she wants to partially privatize Social Security and Medicare.
She also criticizes President Barack Obama's response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Speaking Monday with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board, Mrs. Smith proposed that people younger than 50 could divert up to 40 percent of what they would have paid into Social Security and Medicare and put it in a pre-tax, interest-bearing account that would remain tax-free if spent after the person turns 65.
"This would be considered private property and, at the point of death, if anything remains, it's transferable to a family member," she said.
Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, called the proposal "harebrained" and said it would put people's retirement funds at risk. He said people already have the opportunity to invest in private IRAs and 401k plans for retirement.
Dr. Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said Mrs. Smith's proposal is similar to other ideas floated to reform Social Security. Mr. Wilson added the caveat that he usually votes in the Democratic primary.
"That form of reform of Social Security does appeal to a significant section of the most-conservative wing of the Republican Party, so I assume her proposal will be popular for her in the primary," Mr. Wilson said.
Her proposal probably would have less appeal outside of her party, he said. But he said Mrs. Smith is in a strong position in the race and she is a likely front-runner.
In the editorial board meeting, Mrs. Smith also criticized the federal government's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. She said the company responsible, BP, should focus on plugging the leak and the federal government should protect the nation's shores from the effects of the spill.
She added that former President Bush "didn't do a good job" of responding to Hurricane Katrina, another Gulf Coast disaster in 2005, but said the former governor of Lousiana, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, did not respond well, either.
Mrs. Smith said people she's talking to worry about government spending and want to repeal the recent health care reforms, which she calls Obamacare.
"My stance ... is very consistent with my conservative philosophy," she said. "We absolutely have to tighten our belts."
Occupation: Health care and energy consultant
Fundraising: More than $500,000
3RD DISTRICT CANDIDATES
Tommy Crangle, Chuck Fleischmann, Tim Gobble, Harvey Howard, Jean Howard-Hill, Van Irion, Rick Kernea, Basil Marceaux Sr., Art Rhodes, Robin Smith, Grover Travillian
Alicia Mitchell, Brenda Freeman Short, Brent Davis Staton, John Wolfe
Don Barkman, Mark DeVol, Gregory C. Goodwin, Robert Humphries, Mo Kiah, Savas T. Kyriakidis
Note: The state primary is Aug. 5.
Source: Tennessee Department of State