As you may remember, the Medicare Task Force and the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans held a press conference back in December when President Obama’s bipartisan Fiscal Commission was meeting to create a deficit reduction proposal. That commission, co-chaired by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, created a proposal that included raising the Social Security Retirement age from 67 to 69. Our Task Force spoke out against these harmful and unnecessary cuts and we were very gratified when the Simpson/Bowles plan failed to garner enough votes to pass out of the committee.
However, at that time we knew that this issue was not over. As a matter of fact, Illinois’ own Sen. Durbin was on that fiscal commission and when he voted in favor of the Erskine/Bowles proposal he said that he was voting yes to stake his place at the table next year. As we expected, Congress is trying again to create a bipartisan proposal to reduce the national budget deficit and unfortunately Social Security is being put on the chopping block once again.
Senator Durbin is a member of a bipartisan group of Senators called the Gang of Six, who are working on a new deficit reduction proposal. While the details of their proposal have not been released to the public, there is speculation that it will resemble elements of the Simpson/Bowles plan, including raising the Social Security retirement age.
Vice President Joe Biden has also been arranging closed-door meetings with members of Congress to negotiate a deficit reduction plan to gain the support needed to raise the national debt ceiling. While Biden has not shown public support for cuts to Social Security, he is being pressured by legislators and special interest groups to include Social Security in his negotiations. One of those legislators is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas who introduced S.1213, the Defend and Save Social Security Act, which is a bit of a misnomer considering it would make cuts to the program by raising the retirement age and lowering the cost of living adjustment.
Myths and misinformation about Social Security have conflated the Social Security program with the federal deficit but it is important to understand that Social Security has not added one cent to the deficit. As a matter of fact, Social Security is in its own fund that taxpayers pay into so that they can rely on receiving their benefits when they need them. However, the federal government has borrowed $2.5 trillion from the Social Security fund and they don’t want to pay that money back. If they had never borrowed that money in the first place, Social Security would not be any where near this budget discussion.
It is time to make clear the very real and dire consequences of these proposed cuts. By raising the Social Security retirement age, Congress will be pushing financial stability and Medicare coverage further out of reach for millions of Americans. But on top of that, there will be the people who never make it to the age to receive the benefits that they have earned. This is the tragic reality to these Social Security cuts and we cannot let it happen. That is why we are calling on Senator Durbin, Vice President Biden, and all members of Congress to take Social Security OFF of the table in talks to reduce the federal deficit.
Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal carried a groundbreaking story on AARP, titled “Key Seniors Association Pivots on Benefit Cut” that quoted AARP’s policy chief John Rother at length. The article stated that AARP was ready to drop its opposition to cutting Social Security benefits. The article started by saying “AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington’s debate over how to revamp the nation’s entitlement programs.” The decision, which AARP had not discussed publicly, was shocking and could have far-reaching implications.
Why has AARP shifted its position? A quote from the Wall Street Journal article summarizes AARP’s logic: “The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens,” said John Rother, AARP’s long-time policy chief and a prime mover behind its change of heart.
As you can imagine, this stirred up a lot of controversy. A national coalition of advocacy groups that opposes any cuts to Social Security lashed out at AARP. AARP then put out a press release titled, “AARP Has Not Changed Its Position on Social Security.” AARP is claiming to have been misquoted by the Wall Street Journal. AARP legislative policy director David Certner said on CNN Friday that “there was some miscommunication with the Wall Street Journal story.”
But then Certner acknowledged that AARP believes the program needs to be changed. He suggested raising the age at which retirees can receive full benefits would be on the table even though doing so represents “a massive benefit cut for people.” And AARP is willing to consider supporting this.
But AARP’s change in position is tremendous and could have a devastating impact on the future lives of Americans, because Congress recognizes AARP as the leading advocacy organization for older Americans. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised, since AARP did sell out seniors in the not-to-distant past over a Medicare prescription coverage plan.
AARP is supposed to advocate in the best interests of older Americans. Ironically, AARP’s new position on raising the retirement age came only two days after a groundbreaking national study on life expectancy was released. The county by county study showed that there are big sections of our country where life expectancy is stagnating or actually falling. In one-quarter of the country, girls born today may live shorter lives than their mothers, and the country as a whole is falling behind other industrialized nations in the march toward longer life, according to the study. The study will be published Wednesday, June 22, 2011 in the journal Population Health Metrics.
AARP has gone out of its way in their messaging to keep trying to assure their current members that they (the current members) would not be affected by these changes to Social Security. Over and over, this is what they are telling people. They might as well tell people, “Don’t worry about it; you’ve got yours and that’s all that matters.” AARP is compromising its mission and our nation’s seniors (or more accurately, future seniors) just because they want to “have a seat at the table.”
They talk out of both sides of their mouth, saying that they want to protect Social Security, and that making cuts to Social Security benefits (raising the retirement age IS a cut) is important for saving Social Security. They say that “everybody” recognizes that the Social Security retirement age must be raised. Really? Everybody? Wrong.
The non-partisan Employee Benefits Research Institute figured out that we could completely solve Social Security’s anticipated shortfall if we agreed to lift the income ceiling and tax higher earnings. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and a former trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund also agrees.
We now have to make sure that we do not allow legislators to use AARP’s position as the “seal of approval from seniors” when they want to move forward to make harmful changes to Social Security. AARP acknowledged that “some” of their members may be unhappy with their position. CCHCC believes that most of their members will be unhappy. And yet, AARP will go forward, claiming to be the voice of older Americans in our nation, and they will trade the futures of older Americans in order to gain a seat at a corrupt table.
Let’s let Congress know that “AARP does not speak for me!” And let’s join with the other organizations to fight to protect and strengthen Social Security!