WASHINGTON -- Two separate campaigns have been launched to pressure AARP to stand firm against cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits. The campaigns follow a report by HuffPost that the influential senior citizens lobby will soon be holding a private, principals-only "salon-style conversation" with a host of advocates of entitlement cuts.
"Once again, AARP is working behind the scenes to build support for benefit cuts while masquerading about as an ardent defender of the safety net to its massive, dues-paying membership," reads a petition from the progressive blog FireDogLake.com. "This is outrageous, and AARP should immediately call off the event and disavow this shameful attempt to throw its weight behind benefit cuts."
Credo Action, an online progressive advocacy group, asked its members to reach out to AARP. "Ironically, while the CEO of AARP is set to hold a private meeting with people who want to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, the organization has also just launched a national listening tour on the future of Social Security and Medicare. So if there's ever a time to speak out to AARP, it's now," reads a letter to the group's membership. "We are joining with other groups including our friends at Social Security Works in making sure AARP hears that everyday Americans don't want cuts to Social Security benefits. We need to make sure AARP gets this message loud and clear."
AARP's listening tour officially launches on Monday and is dubbed "You've Earned a Say and We're Listening."
One AARP volunteer who attended a two-day training last week wrote HuffPost to say that the listening tour appeared to be aimed at shifting AARP policy in favor of cuts to benefits. "We were explicitly told NOT to provide any education; furthermore, they want us to urge participants to fill out the surveys at the beginning of the gathering, then as time permits, allow people one by one to express their opinions," the volunteer wrote. "I am wondering if all of this fanfare with the surveys will just be a smokescreen for the AARP backing cuts in Social Security and Medicare and using the opinions gathered in the 'You've Earned a Say' sessions as the basis for their EVOLVING policy."
"AARP is not pursuing any closed door deals or grand bargains," said an AARP spokeswoman. "Our main focus is hearing from our members, and all Americans, what they think about ways to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. That's precisely why we're launching 'You've Earned a Say.' We are interested in hearing from all sides and having civil discourse on these issues."
The nearly 54 million people drawing Social Security benefits receive, on average, $1,073.80 per month, according to the Social Security Administration, as HuffPost previously reported. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the program keeps some 20 million people out of poverty, including 13 million elderly Americans.
Gary Engelhardt and Jonathan Gruber, in a rigorous 2004 National Bureau of Economic Research report on the program, calculated that each 10 percent cut in benefits would lead to a 7.2 percent increase in poverty. Such cuts are beginning to seem likely, despite the robust state of the program's finances, which can cover full benefits through 2037 and boasts a surplus trust fund of $2.6 trillion as of this past fall. Reversing that trend and increasing Social Security payments would likely lead to a reduction in elderly poverty, if past history is any guide.
AARP has expressed an openness to benefit cuts in the past, only to backtrack under pressure from its membership. The organization, in recent years, has become increasingly entangled with its growing insurance operation.
Isaiah Poole at the progressive group Campaign for America's Future also criticized AARP for hosting the salon:
Here's a message from one AARP member: You've done enough listening. For years now, we've had a "debate" about how to make Social Security sustainable for the next 75 years. One side of that debate is using fear-mongering and deception to make the case for dismantling a public vehicle for economic security that many of the people on that side of the debate never believed should exist to begin with. Their dream remains replacing Social Security with a private insurance system that would be a playground for the same Wall Street gamblers and predators whose behavior trashed the value of our 401(k)s during the 2008 financial crash.
The other side has consistently spoken the plain truth: Social Security is not in crisis, and the long-term liquidity issues that do indeed need to be addressed are not because benefits are too generous. In fact, they are not generous enough. We should strengthen Social Security, and a simple step we could take today is to lift the payroll tax cap, so that people earning six- and seven-figure incomes can pay more of their fair share into the system.