This is a big, huge deal. For months, Alan Simpson, one of the co-chairs of the President’s fiscal commission, has been lashing out at AARP and Grover Norquist in the same breath. (Having a hard time finding a video clip on it now, but I’ve heard Simpson’s AARP-Norquist rant live at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s fiscal summit and at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s annual dinner most recently.) But today the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler reports:
WASHINGTON—AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington’s debate over how to revamp the nation’s entitlement programs.
The decision, which AARP hasn’t discussed publicly, came after a wrenching debate inside the organization. In 2005, the last time Social Security was debated, AARP led the effort to kill President George W. Bush’s plan for partial privatization. AARP now has concluded that change is inevitable, and it wants to be at the table to try to minimize the pain.
“The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens,” said John Rother, AARP’s long-time policy chief and a prime mover behind its change of heart…
In an early sign of its new approach, AARP declined to join a coalition of about 300 unions, women’s groups and liberal advocacy organizations created to fight Social Security benefit cuts. “The coalition’s role was to kind of anchor the left, and our role is going to be to actually get something done,” said Mr. Rother.
So good for you, AARP, and in particular, good for you, John Rother. I know it’s hard for many of these same Social Security advocates to understand that some of us who support voluntary, well-considered reform of Social Security–as an alternative to risking its demise from not-so-benign neglect–are actually advocates for Social Security, too. But AARP understands now. AARP’s decision is a prime example of the very tough choices that have to be made, weighing policy wisdom against political pressure, when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
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