AARP, the 37-million-member lobbying group for older Americans, is reversing its long-standing position and no longer opposes cuts in Social Security benefits, according to a front-page story in Friday’s Wall Street Journal
In 2005, the last time Social Security was seriously debated in Washington, AARP spearheaded an effort to defeat President George W. Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security.
The AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, now has concluded that change to the system is inevitable and wants to be involved in decisions affecting Social Security’s future, the Journal reports in its story, which the AARP now appears to be disputing.
“The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens,” said John Rother, AARP’s executive vice president for policy, strategy, and international affairs.
The shift “could have a dramatic effect on the debate surrounding the future of the federal safety net, from pensions to healthcare, given the group’s immense clout,” the Journal observed.
The move is risky, because it could alienate many of AARP’s members and its liberal allies in Washington, who are fighting any benefit cuts.
AARP lost about 300,000 members after it endorsed President Obama’s healthcare reform plan, which includes significant cuts to Medicare.
The group favors tax increases to deal with Social Security’s financial shortcomings.
The AARP has taken issue with the Journal story. "Stay tuned — our position has not changed on Social Security," an AARP spokeswoman said in an email to HuffPost on Friday.
Also on Friday, AARP Legislative Policy Director David Certner said on CNN that "there was some miscommunication with The Wall Street Journal story."
But he acknowledged: "Everybody knows we need to look at a package of different changes to Social Security to make it strong for the long term. The reality is, we have more people older and who are living longer, so we need to make changes. Everybody recognizes that. And we're certainly willing to talk about a package of changes that will keep Social Security strong."
He suggested raising the age at which retirees can receive full benefits — it’s 66 now — would be on the table even though doing so represents "a massive benefit cut for people."
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