AARP Slammed For Not Fighting Social Security Cuts

AARP, the powerful lobby for older Americans, was hammered Friday by fellow activists for refusing to oppose any and all cuts to Social Security benefits, a position the group says it has long held as a way to extend the life of the massive retirement and disability program.

The group, which has 37 million Americans as members, adamantly opposes cutting Social Security benefits to help reduce the federal budget deficit, said David Certner, the organization's director of legislative policy. But for years AARP has acknowledged that cuts to future benefits may be necessary to improve the program's finances, he said.

"Our policy for decades has always been that we basically support a package that would include revenue enhancements and benefit adjustments to get Social Security to long-term solvency," Certner said. "That has been our policy stated over and over again for, I mean, literally it has to be two decades, now."

However, the issue gained major notice Friday as White House and congressional leaders continued to negotiate ways to reduce government red ink. Social Security has not been a part of those talks. Instead, negotiators have focused on potential cuts to Medicare, the government health insurance program for older Americans.

In the midst of that, The Wall Street Journal quoted AARP's longtime policy chief, John Rother, saying the agency was dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits.

"The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens," The Journal quoted Rother as saying.

Certner said the story was inaccurate, that AARP's views were long held. Nevertheless, the story set off a firestorm among Social Security advocates, who roundly criticized AARP as selling out seniors. Most advocacy groups oppose all cuts to Social Security benefits, even those that would affect only future generations, such as an increase in the retirement age.

"AARP is losing the confidence of seniors around the country, and not just seniors but people of every age group," said Max Richtman, acting CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. "I hope the ship that he wants to be steer isn't the Titanic filled with seniors."

Ed Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said, "AARP does not speak for all seniors, and on this topic probably not many of their own members."

Eric Kingson, co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition of about 300 groups, accused AARP of trying to win an influential seat at the negotiating table when lawmakers tackle Social Security.

"AARP is positioning itself as an inside dealmaker that's open to benefit cuts when in fact it should be educating the public about the need to selectively improve the one economic security retirement institution that works quite well," Kingson said. "Even if one believes that some ground may have to be ceded on Social Security, it's terrible negotiation strategy to signal a willingness to compromise before negotiations are joined."

Rother was traveling Friday and unavailable for comment, said AARP spokeswoman Mary Liz Burns. Instead, AARP made Certner available for numerous interviews and released a statement by CEO A. Barry Rand.

"Let me be clear — AARP is as committed as we've ever been to fighting to protect Social Security for today's seniors and strengthening it for future generations," Rand said in the statement. "Contrary to the misleading characterization in a recent media story, AARP has not changed its position on Social Security."

"Our focus has always been on the human impact of changes, not just the budget tables," Rand added. "We have maintained for years — to our members, the media and elected officials — that long-term solvency is key to protecting and strengthening Social Security for all generations, and we have urged elected officials in Washington to address the program's long-term challenges in a way that's fair for all generations."

Social Security's finances face long-term problems because the massive retirement and disability system is being hit by a wave of retiring baby boomers. Last year, the program started paying out more money in benefits than it collected in payroll taxes.

Social Security's actuaries say the trust funds that support the program will be drained by 2036 unless Congress acts. At that point, the system will collect enough in payroll taxes to pay about 77 percent of benefits. Between now and 2036, the government will have to borrow to meet Social Security's obligations because the money held in reserve has been spent on other programs.

Most experts say they expect any long-term fix to include tax increases and benefit cuts, though the cuts are likely to be limited to future retirees. The issue is deadlocked at present because many Democrats in Congress adamantly oppose benefit cuts while nearly all Republicans oppose tax increases.

Advocates have successfully thwarted efforts to include Social Security in the budget talks in Washington, making it unlikely the program will be addressed before the 2012 presidential elections.

Certner said AARP had planned to begin a series of town-hall events around the country earlier this year to start talking with seniors about potential changes to Social Security to improve its long-term finances. Those talks were delayed — and have not been re-scheduled — because the group does not want to Social Security to become part of the budget talks in Washington, Certner said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday, "The president supports measures to strengthen Social Security but does not support anything that would slash benefits for future generations."

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wants to include Social Security in any long-term budget talks. He said AARP's position should cause others to rethink their opposition.

"I think it took a lot of courage on their part to look at the facts and then say, 'We're going to stop our present position, and we're going to work to solve the problems for Social Security,'" Coburn said. "It would seem that they have recognized how severe the problem is."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, said he was bothered by AARP's position but not surprised. "AARP is a fairly conservative seniors' organization," Sanders said.

AARP has a broad membership of people with many political views, Certner said.

The organization was a strong voice in defeating former President George W. Bush's proposal to privatize some aspects of Social Security. But the group supported Bush's successful effort to start a Medicare prescription drug program, which many liberal groups opposed because they thought it was too generous to drug makers.

AARP declined to join the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, which includes many liberal groups and labor unions.

"We generally aren't part of coalitions because we want to make sure we can control our own message on Social Security, which obviously we're not doing a very good job of today," Certner said.

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  • by Anonymous Location: Calif on Jun 28, 2011 at 11:49 AM
    Taking it out on the poor,disabled is NOT the answere to our problems its the GREEDY,people who do not know when to stop or when is enough, Bad decisions,investments ,starting wars,allowing the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.Stop blaming the poor and taking it out on them, NOT everyone can be you. Taxes should be on a "sliding scale" the more one makes the more they pay and NO one gets a Pass. Stop producing new cars,cellphones,computers or anything else to every 5 years, we do not need new this and that every month,6 months,or every year again GREED NEED to stop, when is enough enough ?
  • by harsh reality Location: the world on Jun 18, 2011 at 10:18 AM
    Unless we go to a 50% tax rate like some in Europe- to be cared for from cradle to the grave, it's going to be up to the individual to properly invest and save or simply die when you cannot afford to pay for food, housing and health care anymore. It's already starting to happen. The ones that cannot afford good health care will simply "go on home" when they can't work anymore. If you trusted the US goverment, you messed up big time.
  • by reality Location: eastern nc on Jun 18, 2011 at 08:51 AM
    when SS began, wasn't it supposed to be there for you when you worked hard, contributed, and then retired? Yes, it was probably meant for those that are disabled, too. But today, there are so many "disabled" people that it is draining the system dry. Too many younger people who are "disabled" because of the life style they chose...drugs, alcohol..and now they "can't work". Too many people who want to be disabled because they don't want to work. I know - I have worked behind the scenes for way too many years to state any different. People who are definitely not disabled, but can put on a show good enough to win an Emmy. And if you are already receiving SS benefits, please quit having children. Yes, mama or daddy is drawing a benefit, so now there is another child to draw. Any child born AFTER someone has been determined disabled should not get a check from mama or daddy's claim.
    • reply
      by S on Jun 18, 2011 at 07:04 PM in reply to reality
      You are exactly right,Reality...I have seen the same things day after day...But I can't for the life of me understand why the majority of us who support these "fraululent disabled citizens" don't protest loudly and continually until our crooked political representatives finally get the message & do something about these parasites....I'm sick of working to support this young "disabled" population who have never had any desire to work for a living because they can live off the rest of us...How long is it going to take before the majority of working folks say "enough is enough" and elect true representatives who will DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS PROBLEM!! As for AARP,they're just another ripoff organization who DOES NOTHING FOR ANYBODY BUT THEMSELVES!
    • reply
      by Fact Bringer on Jun 19, 2011 at 12:33 AM in reply to reality
      Some would argue it was there for when your banker invested your hard earned money in things that were not solvent, and then ditched the business with a golden parachute. Funny thing- in 1983 when social security became another source for payoffs to the already rich, the harvest of middle class resources was set in motion. Social security was to defend against money lost by banks, and suddenly social securiry was raided, in order to bail out those same banks. It's both parties, folks.
  • by Mom Location: NC on Jun 18, 2011 at 06:55 AM
    I am not even there yet and I say SHAME ON AARP!!!!
  • by Harry Location: Goldsboro on Jun 18, 2011 at 05:59 AM
    Aw, now the greedy Social Security recipients should be willing to shoulder more of their own upkeep. After all you are the dumb schmucks that TRUSTED the government to keep their promise. When it was "FIXED" in the early 1980's during the Reagan years you let Tip O'Neil and Reagan sucker punch you with the Medicare tax which was suppose to take the pressure off Social Security. And it seems to me I remember a time when Social Security was not taxed but "YOU WEALTHY SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFICIARIES" should be willing to bear more of your own burden, after all you have outlived your usefulness and according to Vice President Biden should not resist death. -------SARCASM OFF-------- We the People have been played by the political variants of Bernie Mad(e)off and they unlike Mr. Madoff will never serve a day in jail for their pyramid scheme and blatant theft. If you or I disposed of money from a TRUST FUND (which is what Social Security is)allegedly the way the bunch of thieving varmints called Congress have done and continue to do, we would be hauled away in irons. Oops, I forgot to mention, Social Security is not currently broke, they actually have over a Trillion Dollars on the books out in West by-God Virginia in their main facility. Of course it is in the form of US Bonds placed in file cabinet after file cabinet. So while on paper Social Security remains solvent, who is going to pay for those bonds when they are redeemed? It sure ain't going to be the taxpayer as there is not enough money to begin to pay them off, unless we have a massive round of double digit inflation like some third world Latin American nation. Of course our Fearless Leader, the Great and Mighty Obama has that one under control. Yeah right.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 18, 2011 at 08:54 AM in reply to Harry
      SS withholding is the manditory government stealing from people.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Jun 18, 2011 at 05:00 AM
    As far as I'm concerned they can raise the retirement age to 100 because I will never be able to retire. Whatever savings I had were lost in the two Bush (Daddy and baby George) recessions. Maybe if the congress didn't have their cushy retirement plan they would have a better grip on what has happened to the retirement plans of the average American since this last Repug debacle
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 18, 2011 at 06:03 AM in reply to Barlow
      And what the Bushes did not take, Obama has sent to his muslium brother hood thugs.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jun 18, 2011 at 09:55 AM in reply to
        Actually, my retirement funds have doubled in value since Obama took over. The Dow was ~6500 when Bush got through with it, it's about 12,000 now. But don't let facts get in the way of your hateful smears.
        • reply
          by Anonymous2 on Jun 18, 2011 at 05:49 PM in reply to
          Actually the first thing that needs to be done away with is the "disability" program and welfare programs the govt funds. Working people have to continually pay more taxes to support all these "disability" programs and I will never be able to afford to retire.
  • by POPPA Location: Winterville, NC on Jun 18, 2011 at 04:51 AM
    HEADSUP: AARP was started years ago with the false intention of having a voice in Congress for the elderly. This did happen until the kik-backers and thieves got into this organization, then our voices were shut off. Big Bucks (billions) have been made whithin the last (under 5 years,) yes folks yours and my dues for this monthly magazine with no news went right into the wrong pockets. So, if you want to research this, go to google, yahoo or, you will get the same answer. My annual dues for AARP are going into someone's hand that needs it most. I am hoping some of you will reply to this. Our SS benefits never had a chance with AARP, this is a big Money Making Machine, was then, is now. There is more information I could share. I am by no means trying to belittle AARP, how do we say it (it is what it is?) POPPA
  • by Kimo Location: Belhaven on Jun 18, 2011 at 04:11 AM
    Justice - You are exactly right!!!
  • by Old F**t on Jun 18, 2011 at 04:06 AM
    Not suprised at all!! First they supported the Obamacare that would take money from Medicare, now support another rape of the old people. I quit sending money to them and hope others vote with their checks.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 18, 2011 at 09:47 AM in reply to Old F**t
      So did I. AARP is not what it was for my late parents. It's a business organization now promoting other businesses.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 18, 2011 at 09:59 AM in reply to Old F**t
      Are you serious!!??? You are angry because health care reform was (supposedly) going to take funds from Medicare? Are you aware that Republicans want to ELIMINATE Medicare altogether? Where is your outrage about that? You'd better learn who your friends are in this debate.
  • by Fran on Jun 18, 2011 at 04:01 AM
    AARP does not care about seniors, just what money they can take from them.
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