05/04/2011 11:30 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

AARP: Fiscal Responsibility Doesn't Mean Gutting Social Security, Medicare, Financial Reform

WASHINGTON -- AARP, the influential lobby group for older Americans, is finally throwing its weight into the debates over taxes and spending, popping a multi-million dollar television ad campaign aimed at protecting Medicare and Social Security.

The ad campaign comes several weeks after Democrats had said they feared the powerhouse advocacy group had been muzzled by GOP probes into its activities and finances.

But the new ad, released Wednesday, marks a full-throated defense of the nation’s social safety net, even as it makes no mention of Republicans or Democrats.

“You’ve worked hard your entire life, paid your dues, raised a family. You’ve earned a little peace of mind,” a grave-voiced narrator says over mournful piano music.

“Now, some in Congress want to make harmful cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Cutting your benefits so Washington can pay its bills.”

“AARP believes the country can do better,” the spot says. “We can cut wasteful spending without cutting the benefits you’ve earned. Join us. Tell Congress to stop the harmful cuts to Medicare and Social Security.”

AARP had been relatively quiet after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rolled out his budget blueprint with a plan to replace government-run Medicare with a voucher-like private system that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would cost seniors at least an extra $6,000 annually by 2021.

The organization released a statement opposing the budget, but did little else beyond telling members to email Congress.

The senior advocate is ramping up their efforts now ahead of the debate over raising the nation’s borrowing limit, or debt ceiling, which is expected to be reached next week. In addition to the multi-million dollar ad campaign, AARP said it would use grass-roots activism and lobbying to influence lawmakers during the forthcoming debate.

The Treasury Department estimates the nation will begin defaulting on it obligations in early August if the ceiling is not hiked by then. While Ryan’s budget assumes that hike will happen, many in the GOP and a few Democrats are suggesting that raising the limit must be accompanied by tough spending controls.

AARP wants to make sure those controls do not involve caps or “triggers” for cuts that harm the cherished safety net programs.

“Older Americans care deeply about the nation’s fiscal health, but making political deals that cut their hard earned benefits is the wrong way to address these challenges,” AARP’s Nancy LeaMond said in a statement.

“Imposing arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts will not only reduce benefits for today’s seniors and tomorrow’s retirees, but also add to the financial burden that Americans are already shouldering for their health and financial security,” she said.

But AARP is also weighing in on other controversial issues, including the debates opening Wednesday over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created with AARP backing after the 2008 financial meltdown to safeguard individuals.

A pair of GOP-sponsored bills that critics say would gut the CFPB are being voted through House Financial Institutions subcommittee.

In a letter sent to Financial Services Committee Chair Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) Tuesday, AARP’s LeaMond urges him to defeat those bills.

“In supporting the creation of the new agency, AARP was clear that it should be truly independent in its leadership, funding, staffing, and decision-making,” LeaMond wrote. “Judged against these simple criteria, AARP opposes H.R. 1121, the ‘Responsible Consumer Financial Protection Regulations Act’ and H.R. 1315, the ‘Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act.’”

LeaMond argued that one of the bills would “sharply diminish accountability and muddle decision making at the CFPB by altering the leadership structure from that of a single director to a five member commission.” That would leave the agency without a leader who would be “fully accountable to the President and the American people.”

On the other bill, LeaMond contended the bill “would significantly expand the power of banking regulators to stop consumer protection measures” by letting “a simple majority of bank regulators and others on the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to veto CFPB rules.”