AARP’s rejection of any significant changes to the nation’s safety net could be a major factor as policymakers seek a deal to put the government’s finances in order through raising taxes and cutting spending on federal programs, possibly including popular entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security.
Republicans say scaling back Social Security and Medicare, the largest drivers of future government deficits, is necessary. President Obama has previously been open to benefit cuts.
But for lawmakers who would have to vote for such changes, AARP’s 37 million members and $1.3 billion budget are a force to be reckoned with. In the past eight months, AARP has sponsored a series of candidate debates, run television ads, circulated questionnaires and held more than 4,000 meetings around the country to mobilize its legion of supporters to oppose any cuts.
Under the slogan “You’ve earned a say,” the group has been building opposition to entitlement changes. A recent poll by the organization found that 70 percent of Americans 50 and older think Medicare and Social Security shouldn’t be part of the upcoming fiscal debate.
“We’re fighting to stop cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that will hurt beneficiaries,” said AARP’s top lobbyist, Nancy LeaMond. “We want to ensure that Social Security is not part of this deficit discussion.”
Leading bipartisan proposals to reduce the federal debt have proposed changes to entitlement programs, including raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 and adopting a stingier formula to determine Social Security payments. Both proposals were discussed during secret negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in summer 2011 during efforts to resolve the country’s debt ceiling crisis. Those talks collapsed without a final agreement. But many political observers expect the proposals to resurface as Democrats and Republicans try to reach a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” — the government spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in at the beginning of next year.
AARP opposes raising the age for Medicare eligibility on the grounds that it would increase costs for younger seniors while driving up premium costs for older ones. The group opposes efforts to shrink Social Security cost-of-living increases, which it says would cost older seniors thousands of dollars in benefits.
AARP’s critics say it is looking out for current retirees at the expense of future generations.
“We’ve been stealing money from our children, and one of the main reasons that we’ve been unable to stop is that AARP is so opposed to any change to the entitlement programs and they’re politically powerful,” said Kevin A. Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute.