Once a proponent of individual investment accounts within Social Security, Mike Pence during the vice presidential debate endorsed leaving benefits in the federal retirement program untouched.

"The only thing Donald Trump and I have said about Social Security is: We're going to meet our obligations to our seniors. That's it," the Republican said Tuesday night while responding to rival Tim Kaine's suggestion that he was the "chief cheerleader" of privatizing Social Security while in Congress.

Pence's commitment during the nationally televised debate to keeping Social Security benefits unchanged is one of the campaign's clearest statements of policy on the program yet.

Trump has given contradictory indications about his goals for Social Security. Before running for president, he had suggested that partially privatizing the retirement program might be necessary, a recommendation that Kaine seized on in Tuesday's debate.

During this year's campaign, however, Trump has frequently hinted that he would leave benefits intact. He has accused other Republicans of looking to "cut to shreds" Social Security, and said that he would shore up the program's finances by stoking economic growth through trade and immigration reform, along with eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. At the same time, campaign advisers have suggested that Trump might look to trim benefits.

Experts have said that merely cutting waste, fraud and abuse would be insufficient to stabilize Social Security. Social Security's trustees project that the combined trust funds for retirement and disability payments will be exhausted by 2034, at which point beneficiaries will face an immediate 21 percent cut in benefits.

Pence, while U.S. representative for Indiana in 2005, did favor a plan backed by George W. Bush to introduce individual investment accounts to Social Security, as well as a more aggressive version of the plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan. He also suggested during at least one interview that he would be open to raising the retirement age or otherwise reducing benefits for younger people who have to pay into the system for decades.

As Trump's running mate, however, Pence has adopted and clarified Trump's stance.

He and Trump, he explained, seek to protect current benefits while cutting taxes, while Clinton and Kaine are open to raising payroll taxes.