As Republicans wait for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the costs and coverage effects of the American Health Care Act, they’ve been taking aim at the CBO and at interest groups that are critical of the bill. Chief among them: the American Association of Retired Persons, the 37 million-member monolith.
AARP’s fast opposition to the AHCA was captured by a Web ad, in which an actor chopping wood denounced the bill as an “age tax” — a sliding scale of tax credits that would lead to less money than older people get in the ACA.
“The bill gives big drug companies a sweetheart tax break while doing nothing to help lower drug costs for everyday Americans,” said the actor.
Asked about the ad on ABC News’s “This Week,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney ignored the substance and took a baseball bat to the AARP.
“I think that’s the same group, AARP, that did the television ads of — of a guy that looks a lot like Paul Ryan pushing Granny off the edge of a cliff back when we first started talking about budgetary reforms back in 2010,” said Mulvaney. “And my guess is that the millions of emails that that group and other groups are sending out today have a little ‘click here to donate’ button at the bottom.”
But AARP didn’t make the television ad that Mulvaney was citing. In 2011, after House Republicans won the majority, Ryan became chairman of the Budget Committee. Already famous for his “Ryan plan” to shrink America’s long-term fiscal obligations by cutting and capping entitlements, Ryan’s committee launched a revised version which, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “essentially end[ed] Medicare” by turning it into a premium support program. AARP opposed the budget — which, under President Obama, was mostly for show — but it was the left-wing Agenda Project that ran a Web video dramatizing “granny going off a cliff.”
The White House’s quick dismissal of AARP also stands in contrast with how parties trying to push entitlement reforms typically operate. Throughout the lengthy Affordable Care Act debate, the Obama White House and congressional Democrats talked to AARP to stay on the same page; AARP eventually endorsed passage of the bill. And in the first George W. Bush administration, AARP was brought on board to endorse Medicare Part D, running a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to shore up votes from wavering Republicans.
When AARP has been left outside the gate, a reform push has typically failed. Bush found that out in 2005, when he made Social Security privatization the first big project of his second term. AARP came out against it, mobilizing angry voters at town halls and blunting the impact of Bush’s own push, which took him around the country for months.
The Trump administration, and Republicans in Congress, have chosen this year to simply define AARP as yet another flawed interest group.
“They’re not in the news business; they’re not in the business of fixing things,” said Mulvaney. “They’re in the business of trying to protect their own self-interests and to raise money, and that’s unfortunate that that’s where a lot of folks will get their information.”