Listen Up AARP Weve Heard Enough About Cutting Social Security

Isaiah J. Poole

A report today in The Huffington Post that the AARP is organizing a “salon” dominated by supporters of cuts to Social Security benefits—as part of a larger “listening tour”—has advocates for preserving Social Security hopping mad.

Apparently, the AARP has not learned any lessons from the last time it played footsie with the forces pushing for Social Security cuts. That was in June 2011 when the Wall Street Journal reported that the AARP was “dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits.” In response, Eric Kingson, the co-director of Social Security Works, announced that he was joining the hundreds upon hundreds of AARP members who burned their membership cards in response.

AARP responded to the firestorm by saying it was just trying to open a dialogue, not throw its weight behind conservative efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare.

That remains its argument now, according to The Huffington Post story.

“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.”

Nonetheless, there is a closed-door discussion just a short walk from the Capitol at the home of Robert Raben, a Washington lobbyist whose client list includes a mix of progressive groups and corporations. The guest list, HuffPo reported, “includes a gallery of powerful Washington establishment figures who are on record favoring cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The only firm opponent of Social Security or Medicare benefit cuts on the list, the Economic Policy Institute’s Larry Mishel, said he wasn’t planning to go and wasn’t sure why he was listed as a featured guest.”

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.

If AARP wanted to launch a tour, it would do well to tour the country building support for such steps as lifting the payroll cap and ensuring that benefits keep pace with the housing, medical and food costs seniors actually experience. We will hear plenty from people such as Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican who is chairman of the House Budget Committee who last year called for turning Medicare into a private insurance voucher program and who supports privatizing Social Security as well. But, to be blunt, the advocates for dismantling Social Security or weakening its ability to support the people who depend on it have had their say. And a majority of Americans have time and again rendered their verdict against their toxic prescriptions.

What we’ve earned is not more of their talk. We need organizations like the AARP to lead on strengthening Social Security—or else get out of the way.

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