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AARP's offensive new ad campaign

AARP's new ad campaign deems Social Security and Medicare benefits off limits. But would most members agree with that position if they understood it was just insuring that even more of the debt would be shifted to their children and grandchildren?

By Guest blogger / October 18, 2011

Kathleen Cramm winces as she tries to remember the spelling of a word during the AARP National Spelling Bee. The author argues that AARP's new ad campaign is uncooperative and short-sighted. Worse, it oversimplifies the nation's debt problems.

James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune-Eagle/AP/File

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I find this AARP ad campaign so offensive. They threaten policymakers with their 50 million votes if any of them dares to include reforms to Social Security or Medicare as part of longer-term deficit reduction. AARP’s point? From their website touting the ad:

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AARP’s new national television ad tells lawmakers to cut waste and tax loopholes, not Social Security and Medicare. It urges lawmakers not to treat seniors like line items in a budget and lets them know that 50 million seniors are counting on them to protect their benefits.

Cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits could:

  • dramatically increase health care costs for seniors and future retirees.
  • threaten seniors’ access to doctors and hospitals.
  • reduce the benefit checks seniors rely on to pay their bills.

Why do I hate this ad? For the same reasons my entire organization, The Concord Coalition, explained today in this statement:

“This is the kind of tactic and rhetoric AARP has condemned in the past,” said former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey, co-chairman of The Concord Coalition’s Board of Directors. “Since hollowing out the rest of the budget to pay for expanding entitlements would result in more uninsured, undereducated and unemployed Americans, AARP has taken an approach which can only and honestly be described as generational warfare. By its actions AARP has put at risk the strong inter-generational support for Social Security and Medicare.”

Concord Executive Director Robert L. Bixby added:“With its size and influence, AARP could be a powerful voice for reasonable reforms to establish a more sustainable fiscal path. Instead, it has chosen to be part of the problem by insisting that all sacrifices must be borne by someone else.

“AARP knows full well that benefits have been changed in the past and will have to change in the future. Most of the changes that have been widely discussed would not affect today’s seniors at all. Even worse, the ad perpetuates the false notion that our nation’s unsustainable fiscal outlook is merely a product of ‘waste and loopholes.’ AARP’s intransigent position will make realistic solutions all the more difficult.”

All options must be on the table to solve our nation’s fiscal problems. This includes domestic discretionary programs and defense, both of which have already been slated for cuts, as well as taxes and the major entitlement programs. Concord has long been critical of all attempts to exclude any part of the budget from scrutiny for two main reasons. First, exemptions increase the burden on those parts of the budget that remain on the table. Second, exemptions for some programs or taxes run counter to the concept of shared sacrifice and thus make necessary compromises more difficult to achieve.

Concord agrees that seniors should not be unfairly targeted in deficit reduction efforts. Any benefit changes should be phased in to prevent sudden disruptions for retirees and to give workers time to adjust and prepare for them. That, however, is a far cry from granting a blanket exemption to the nation’s two largest entitlement programs, which together comprise roughly one-third of the federal budget…

As the super committee considers its options, The Concord Coalition urges that all options remain on the table. Just as ignoring the need for more revenues is unrealistic, pretending that we can exempt important and popular programs like Social Security and Medicare from scrutiny is a good way to ensure that our fiscal problems will never be solved.

Oh, I also think it’s an offensive ad because I don’t believe most AARP members would actually agree with the AARP’s position to keep Social Security and Medicare completely “off the table” if they understood it was just insuring that even more of the burden of the debt and its negative effects on economic well-being would be shifted to their kids and grandkids. We need a counterad to this one. Instead of angry old, menacing people shaking their fists and threatening to vote against fiscally responsible politicians, let’s see some crying babies who have no political voice but through their parents and grandparents.

I still haven’t joined AARP (got my first invitation at 49 although I thought it wasn’t supposed to start until 50), but this certainly doesn’t endear them to me–discounts or no discounts.

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