AARP hits Capitol Hill to warn against benefit cuts in deficit deal

Staff and volunteers with AARP met with lawmakers Wednesday to warn against cuts to Social Security and Medicare in a year-end deficit-reduction package.

The nation's largest senior lobby has been vocal in its opposition to benefit cuts as lawmakers negotiate with the White House to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," a combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to hit Jan. 1.

"Americans have spoken and they don’t want Congress or the president to make changes to Social Security or Medicare in any last minute deficit deal," said AARP’s volunteer President Rob Romasco in a statement. 

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"In the long-term we need to strengthen Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, but shifting costs to the older and less fortunate among us is not going to make our country stronger," Romasco said.

Wednesday's talking points included AARP's opposition to raising the Medicare eligibility age and to extending the Social Security payroll tax cut.

The group also opposed changing Social Security's cost of living adjustments to conform to a chained consumer price index. Such a move would reduce payouts to seniors, AARP said.

Republicans insist that entitlement cuts be on the table along with new tax revenues in any deficit agreement.

President Obama indicated Tuesday that he would consider entitlement reform if the GOP agrees to higher tax rates for wealthy households.

"The issue right now that’s relevant is the acknowledgment that if we’re going to raise revenues that are sufficient to balance with the very tough cuts that we’ve already made and the further reforms in entitlements that I’m prepared to make, that we’re going to have to see rates on the top 2 percent go up," Obama told Bloomberg. "And we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it."

But congressional Democrats appear split about the scope of entitlement reform in deficit negotiations.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that entitlement cuts should remain on the table during fiscal-cliff talks.

"They clearly are on the table," Hoyer said of changes to Medicare, such as raising the eligibility age. "They've been on the table for some period of time. That does not mean that I'd be prepared to adopt them now, but they're clearly, I think, on the table.”

Other Democrats have said that while they would back spending reductions in Medicare, cuts to benefits should not be part of the deficit discussions. 

"The moment you want to privatize Social Security, or voucherize Medicare, or block-grant Medicaid — that's where you lose us. Because we want to strengthen those programs, not let them die on the vine,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.).