The leadership of the country's major organizations for the elderly charged yesterday that the Reagan administration is trying to stifle debate at the 1981 White House Conference on the Aging and called on Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker to give delegates a voice in writing the conference's rules.
"At the very least," said Jack Ossofsky, executive director of the National Council on the Aging, "this conference should not be a means of anesthetizing the public from the surgery of budget director David Stockman."
Ossofsky and three other officials of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations focused their attention on a proposed rule that would have the more than 2,000 delegates attending the four-day conference, which begins Monday, vote once on a package of reports from the conference's 14 committees, rather than voting on each report.
The officials renewed charges that the administration has stacked committees, has appointed delegates solely with partisan considerations in mind, and is manipulating the rules-- all to block efforts to have the conference advocate programs opposed by the administration.
Yesterday's allegations further clouded the atmosphere forming around the conference. The 1981 conference on aging "has already been deeply scarred," said Jack Clayman, president of the National Council of Senior Citizens. "Suspicions are rife. Every day, maybe on the hour, a new rumor, a new alleged fact, a new alleged atrocity. No one wants to believe anybody else. This is the current mood."
Betty M. Brake, executive director of the conference, said later that the basic plans for the conference were set by the Carter administration "and essentially . . . haven't been changed." Brake, who took over as conference head about two months ago, said that complaints about the conference "have come from a small group of delegates and they seem to have been very well-orchestrated, because they've been identical complaints from California, New York, you name it, but from a small group, continuous. I feel there has been an attempt to discredit the conference ahead of time, very well-orchestrated."
Laura Genero, Schweiker's spokeswoman, said that Schweiker, who met last Friday with officials of the conference and the organizations for the elderly to hear their concerns, will respond on Friday.
Genero said the rules Schweiker will issue for the conference "will definitely allow for more delegate participation than any other White House conference on the aging. I think the rules will be acceptable."
Brake said yesterday that Schweiker favors a rule allowing the committees to report majority and minority views to the conference. She said that Schweiker also favors a post-conference ballot that would permit delegates to vote on separate items.
Clayman said late yesterday that the post-conference ballot is "malarkey" since upper-middle-class delegates will participate and minority delegates will not "because it's not their tradition."
At a news conference earlier in the day, the officials of the organizations for the aging also criticized conference organizers for the apparent confusion surrounding the conference. Chairmen for the conference's 14 committees were announced yesterday morning. Current lists of delegates have been difficult or impossible to get, they charged.
Lou Glasse, who heads the New York state delegation, said 75 "mystery delegates" have been appointed to her delegation by the administration and she has not been able to find out who they are.
"Never have I known a conference with such organized confusion," Clayman said. "I've been around quite a while. Sometimes one believes it's witting and sometimes one believes it's just being heavy-footed."