August 21, 2011
Photo by Richard A. Bloom
Robert Weiner
Photo by Khurram A. Abbas
John Horton

Waffling AARP: Medicare, Social Security at Risk

By Robert Weiner and John Horton

Over the past two months, AARP has been all over the map on cuts to Social Security and Medicare. For the 37 million members of AARP, including the more than 500,000 in Broward and Palm Beach counties alone, who, like President Obama, get "my card with all the benefits," this questionable support is unsettling. The super-committee of Congress is set to negotiate possible changes to these programs. This is not the time for AARP to waffle about using its full force to support Medicare and Social Security.

In June, chief policy analyst John Rother told The Wall Street Journal that AARP would be open to cuts because they were "inevitable." He "wanted to be at the wheel when that happens."

Organizations like Third Way, a lobbying group, seized the weakness to say now that AARP has "opened the door to reform, it is time for lawmakers to walk through it." Republicans and Democrats are discussing reducing cost-of-living triggers, raising the retirement age, higher co-pays, means testing and other gradual cutbacks of seniors' programs to lower the nation's debt.

AARP may have seen the danger of its earlier position. In July, AARP released a TV ad that aggressively shows a senior citizen threatening politicians but not his own organization's chief policy analyst who want to "cut benefits." The man poses in front of his home, arms folded, forcefully claiming that 50 million senior citizens will not be used as pawns in deficit negotiations.

AARP wants politicians to remember that 70 percent of those older than 65 vote. AARP may have learned the lesson from the May 24 special congressional election of in New York's District 26, where underdog Kath Hochul upset her Republican opponent the first Democratic victory in the district in 30 years by framing the campaign solely on cuts to Medicare. Suddenly, AARP understood that if it continued to advocate cuts in Medicare or turning it into vouchers, the group, too, would lose members.

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