June 26, 2011
Progress in the Social Security funding debate could reshape discussion about our entitlement programs
Following intense critique from fellow activists, AARP backtracked on comments made by its policy chief, who hinted that the organization might consider cuts to Social Security benefits as part of the program's funding reform. Historically, the organization has been one of the fiercest opponents of any cuts to the program, which is projected to exhaust its funds by 2036.
"AARP is as committed as we've ever been to fighting to protect Social Security for today's seniors and strengthening it for future generations," AARP's CEO A. Barry Rand said in a statement. "Contrary to the misleading characterization in a recent media story, AARP has not changed its position on Social Security."
Rand's statement came in response to comments by AARP's policy chief John Rother that were reported in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, indicating the organization was dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits. "The ship was sailing," Rother told the Wall Street Journal , and added that changes were inevitable for the program. He also said AARP wants to be at the helm of the dialogue to minimize any negative impact that proposed changes to Social Security could have on its members.
Alicia Munnell, who heads Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, wasn't surprised by the organization's seemingly sudden change of heart. "I think it's an organization that's trying to be relevant, and just saying it cares about its constituents and saying 'we're never giving in on anything' [is] just not a way to be relevant," she says. "I think they think this program should be fixed sooner rather than later, and keeping a position that says no cuts under any circumstances means you can't really start a dialogue."
Experts say hidden between the lines of AARP's "new" stance is evidence that the most powerful lobby for older Americans could be coming around to the idea of compromise, which has the potential to reshape Washington's approach to revamping entitlement programs as a whole. U.S. News recently spoke with Bill Novelli, professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and CEO of AARP from 2001 to 2009, about the organization's latest comments and the future of Social Security. Excerpts:
Do Rother's comments represent a fundamental change in AARP's stance?
In my opinion, this is not a sea change for AARP. This is AARP trying to take the positions that it's held and move the ball forward, and that's what we need. Nobody has the silver bullet here. We have to sit down and negotiate and figure it out. They have been saying right along that they are open to the idea of figuring out ways to get to Social Security solvency, and that includes both sides of the equation: the revenue side and the benefits side.
The information that came out of AARP didn't surprise me. What surprised me was the way some of the policymakers and some of the special interest groups reacted to all this, acting as though it was AARP reversing itself, which I don't think it is at all.
What prompted these comments on Social Security now?
AARP is basically doing what they always do.
They're trying to lead, they're trying to be constructive, they're trying to make positive contributions to this huge debt and deficit debate. Social Security is one of the ways in which you really could solve a problem, and that could be a catalyst for taking on the tougher [problems].
We've got to have Social Security solvency and we've got to do it with adequacy and fairness. You've got to take longevity into account. People are living longer. You need to make Social Security progressive -- it's a safety net, and I think that they've recognized this all along.
Raising the [payroll tax] cap has been something talked about all along. Even in 2005 when President Bush tried to carve private accounts out of Social Security, even then he implied he would be willing to talk about a raise in the cap.
That's been out there and that solves a big part of the problem, [but] there are other ways to raise revenues that don't have anything to do with tax increases. Investing the money better -- Canada does that -- signing up everybody and making this a universal system. It's surprising that in many states, teachers, cops, and fireman are not in Social Security. There are a variety of ways to think about the revenue side of the equation.
How does this impact the broader dialogue about entitlement programs?
I think what they're trying to do here is they're trying to lead, which is what they should be doing and I do think it has implications for the wider debate. They can engage their members, they can be constructive on Medicare, and especially on healthcare even more broadly. If we're going to get debt and deficit under control, we have to get healthcare under control and AARP can contribute to that.
If you look at the whole healthcare picture, who would've thought we would have had healthcare reform a few years ago. Now we have it and what we have to do now is build on it. AARP is in a good position to help us do that.
What does this mean for retirement income security?
We have to think about retirement income as broader than just Social Security, and AARP has been talking about this all along. We need some way to improve retirement security.
There is one good trend, which is that older people are working longer and that's because there's more longevity and better health and there's also a need -- some people want to work longer, but some people have to work longer.
But we have to think about retirement security beyond Social Security. We need add-on accounts on top of Social Security, we need to help people be more financially literate, we need people to start [saving for retirement] earlier.
These are the areas that we can make progress, and if we can break out of all this partisan bickering and really face up to these issues with AARP helping out, we have a lot of opportunities.
Read the latest political news.
- Big Media Suicide Compact
- Sarah Palin and the Media Bring Out the Worst in Each Other
- GOP's War on Workers' Rights Undermines the Economy
- Rejection of Reality Has Become Endemic to Politics
- Are the Republicans Going Soft on Taxes?
- Senators Urge IRS to Provide Taxpayers With Free Software
- AARP on Social Security: A Game-Changer for Entitlement Programs?
- Younger Women Desert Female Candidates
- Will Jon Huntsman Impact the 2012 Field?
- Will Jon Huntsman's Foreign Policy Experience Even Matter for 2012?
- Should Rick Perry Run for the 2012 GOP Nomination?
- Why Anthony Weiner Had to Resign
- Anthony Weiner: Normalizing Deviance
- Anthony Weiner: The Shameless Society
- 8 Politicians Who Survived Scandals
- Momentum Grows for Payroll Tax Cut
- America's Fading Exceptionalism
- When It Comes to Sleaze Men Rule
- President Obama: Our Reactionary President
- Latest On Obama's War Powers Act Workaround
- New GOP Majority Is Trying to Cut Spending, But Not By Enough
- 'Utterly Insane' Health Care Insurance Situation
- Odds Just 1 in 3 on Deal to Raise Debt Ceiling
- An Unrevealing Debate
- The Gingrich Implosion
- GOP Activists Hope for Surprise 2012 Candidate
- Michele Bachmann: The Smart Version of Sarah Palin
- Media Hit Bottom With Sarah Palin Emails
- Hispanics Key to Victory in 2012 Presidential Race
- Anthony Weiner Not the Only 'Flash' Photographer, Sadly
- The President Shouldn't Go Over to the Supply Side
- The Afghan Money Pit
- United States and Pakistan: Afghan Strategies
- Predator Syndrome
- Anti Voter Fraud Reforms Are Practical Not Partisan
- With Rick Santorum Religious Conservatives May Have a 2012 Candidate
- The Truth Is the GOP Has 2012 Trouble
- Obama 2012: Custom-Tailored History
- Robert Gates Departure Could Bring Makeover for Obama on National Security
- Washington Plays Chicken With the Market
- GOP Pushes Balanced Budget Amendment
- For Many Republicans Afghanistan Is A Budget Issue
- Will Mitt Romney Be Able to Dodge Healthcare Flip-Flopper Label?
- Mitt Romney's Second Try
- Is Sarah Palin Wrong to Stand by her Paul Revere Statements?
- On History Sarah Palin is Just Like a Lot of Us
- Little Evidence Weiner Broke Law in Twitter Photo Scandal
- Anthony Weiner: Sex Scandal Sans Sex
- Anthony Weiner: Here's the Lowdown on 'Weinergate'
- Anthony Weiner: A Time For Sadness
- Breaking Down the Debt-Ceiling Debate
- Congress' Bipartisan Vice Is Cowardice
- 40 Years Later: America's Failed War on Drugs
- Something We Can Say With Certitude: The Economy Stinks!
- Solution to US Budget Woes Lies in Ending Its Many Wars
- Tea Party Fear: Has Washington Co-Opted New House Members?
- Obamacare Scare Fizzles
- 5 Reasons Sarah Palin Will Get the 2012 GOP Nod and 5 Reasons She Won't
- Latest GOP Sideshow
- Citizen Cain Rhymes With 'Pain'
- Florida GOP Won't Let Democracy Get Out of Hand
- 8 Easy Ways to Cut Government Spending
- Balanced Budget Movement Grows In House
- Senators Propose Closing State Offices to Save on Budget
- The Factory of Selective Moral Outrage
- Republicans and Democrats No Closer to Compromising on Jobs Plan
- Why Republican Medicare Strategy Just Might Work in Long Run
- Beware the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex
- Obama's Bad Policy and Harmful Regulations Add to Gas Prices
- Congress Wants More Clarity on Obama's Libya Policy
- New DNC Boss Calls GOP 'Anti-Women'
- Obama Is Deceiving Hispanics on Immigration
- Obama and the Shifting Ground of Race
- Eliot Spitzer's 10 Rules To Fixing the Economy and Corporate Mismanagement
- A Bad Day That Never Changes
- Executive Pay Zooming Skyward Again
- On Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Shakespeare and the Enemy in the Mirror
- The Battle for the Soul of the GOP
- To Fix the Budget Deficit Raise Corporate Taxes
- The Case for and Against The TARP Bailout
- Obama's Secret Weapon for 2012 Re-Election Campaign: The Economy
- 10 Issues Driving Obama's 2012 Re-Election Campaign
- Koch Brothers War on America
- Ignorant Certainty
- Apocalypse, Oops! -- Lessons From a Failed Doom
- Giuliani Aiming to Take Down Romney in New Hampshire
- Tim Pawlenty Aims for the Straight Talk Mantel
- Newt Gingrich Will Star In Democrats' Anti-Ryan Medicare Attacks
- Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin Leading 2012 GOP Field
- GOP Horse With No Rider
- What Price Our Principles?
- Pentagon and Obama Bomb House Bid To Revive Jet Engine
- Congress's Deep Support for Israel May Not Lead to Action
- President Obama Counters Criticism on Middle East
- Obama Offers Little New In Middle East Speech
- The Latest Futility: New President, Same Middle East
- Elizabeth Warren to Obama: 'You Had Me at Predatory Lending'
- Guess Who's Running For President in 2012?
- Even Without Donald Trump, Plenty of Clowns in the 2012 GOP Field
- Who Benefits from Huckabee and Trump 2012 Announcements
- Bin Laden Killing Is Obama's Defining Moment
- Herb Kohl Retirement Adds to Democrats 2012 Senate Woes
- Government Hits Debt Ceiling as Parties Squabble
- Boehner's Debt Ceiling Speech Shows Problems of Obamanomics
- Four Roadblocks to Obama's Immigration Reform
- Alligators, Moats and Other Such Nonsense
- Obama Talks Nice About Immigration Reform But What Is He Willing to Do?
- Mitt Romney: Like Father, Like Son
- Why Newt Gingrich Will be the 2012 GOP Nominee for President
- The GOP Field for 2012: Who's on First?
- Republicans Vs. Invisibility
- A Sharper GOP Field for 2012
- GOP Warns Of Back Door Mileage Tax
- Big Oil Tax Break Vote Could Hurt Vulnerable Republicans
- Why Congress Cannot Fix Your Gas Prices Pain
- Why Washington Should Pay Attention to the Economy Here and Now
- On Gas Prices Obama Should Lead or Get Out of the Way
- Putting $4 Gas In Perspective
- 7 Ways the United States Population is Changing
- Dear Class of 2011: Good Luck You're Really Going to Need It
- Big Oil's Money Gusher
- Lawmakers Tell Obama to End Afghanistan War
- Osama bin Laden Is Dead: Does Obama or Bush Deserve the Credit?
- What did Killing Osama bin Laden Actually Accomplish?
- Toning Down the Celebrating
- Why the Hurry to Gloat About Bin Laden?
- Wall Street Lobbyists Trying to Sway Tea Party
- Killed by Tea Party GOP, Second F-35 Engine Revived
- Trotting Out the GOP Candidates
- Bad GOP Timing
- Recall Elections Enhance Democracy
- Recall Elections Waste Public Funds and Cause Chaos
- A Memorial Day to Remember
Available at Amazon.com:
AARP on Social Security: A Game-Changer for Entitlement Programs? | Politics
(c) 2011 U.S. News & World Report