The AARP set off a firestorm Friday when its policy chief, John Rother, suggested that the seniors’ group was dropping its long-standing opposition to cutting Social Security benefits. As Congress focuses on cutting deficit spending — and Republicans attempt to tie that effort to cutting “entitlement” programs like Social Security and Medicare — Rother told the Wall Street Journal, “The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens.”
Those comments were immediately touted by proponents of privatizing Social Security and/or cutting its benefits. The (Tacoma) News Tribune published an editorial gushing that the “AARP’s apparent defection from the opposition creates an opening for Congress to forge a compromise.”
The AARP’s comments were immediately criticized by Social Security advocates and other senior groups. Edward Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said, “AARP does not speak for all seniors. And on this topic probably not for many of their own members.”
We have heard the argument that when the Baby Boomers retire, they will break the bank. Of course their retirement will put a demand on the Trust Fund, but there are many alternatives to strengthen Social Security besides cutting benefits. Raising the payroll cap, for instance.
The voices of doom are wrong. The Social Security Trust Fund has a $2.6 trillion surplus, and it is projected to grow to $4.3 trillion by 2023. We do not need to cut benefits.
The AARP has been in damage-control mode since the Journal article was published June 17. It says the article was inaccurate and the AARP’s position has not changed on Social Security. But Social Security advocates are asking the question, just where does the AARP stand on this critical issue for America’s senior citizens?
AARP official David Certner says, “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.”
Those who remember 2003, when the AARP endorsed a Republican Medicare prescription drug plan considered by many to be an expensive boondoggle benefiting prescription drug companies, are asking AARP to clarify what it means by “benefit adjustments.”
“It is time for AARP to be specific on where they stand on specific proposals both positive and negative,” said Robby Stern, President of the Puget Sound Alliance of Retired Americans. “It is not enough to state they are against privatization. There are specific proposals that are being considered. AARP needs to make clear where they stand.”
Said ARA chief Edward F. Coyle: “There is no ambiguity on where the Alliance for Retired Americans stands on Social Security – never has been, never will be. We are against Social Security benefit cuts for seniors.”
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