June 17 (Bloomberg) -- AARP, a lobbying group for retirees, said today it is willing to support cuts in Social Security over “the long term” to shore up the program’s finances while stressing its opposition to any benefit changes as part of current efforts to slash the federal debt.
“We are open to talking about different options to strengthen Social Security for the long term” including “changes on the benefit side,” David Certner, the group’s legislative director, said in an interview.
He denied a Wall Street Journal report that said AARP is changing its policy, and some experts on both sides of the issue agreed.
“They never ruled out there could be some cuts,” said Dean Baker, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, which opposes benefit cuts. “That’s been their position as long as I’ve been around.”
Bob Bixby, head of the Arlington, Virginia-based Concord Coalition, which supports reductions, agreed that AARP has never ruled them out.
The issue of trimming Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors has become supercharged as members of Congress are trying to agree on a deficit reduction plan before an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the U.S.’s $14.3 trillion debt limit. Lawmakers aren’t likely to include Social Security changes in any agreement, with Democrats opposed to them.
The Journal report prompted Social Security advocacy groups to hold a conference call criticizing the AARP’s stance. “AARP is not representing their members on this issue,” said Ed Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, a 4-million-member group.
“Seniors of all political persuasions and even voters of all age groups do not support cutting Social Security benefits,” said Max Richtman, acting chief executive officer of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “They are dragging this discussion of Social Security cuts back into the debate on deficit reduction and that’s just plain wrong.”
Social Security’s trustees reported last month that, with waves of retiring Baby Boomers becoming eligible for benefits, it won’t be able to pay them in full beginning in 2036.
AARP favors lifting a cap on the payroll tax that funds the program, though it is willing to accept benefit cuts too, Certner said.
Chief Executive Officer A. Barry Rand said in a statement today that “any changes would be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near-term beneficiaries.”
“It has long been AARP’s policy that Social Security should be strengthened to provide adequate benefits and that it is sufficiently financed to ensure solvency with a stable trust fund for the next 75 years,” Rand’s statement said.
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