By Erik Wasson - 06/17/11 06:14 PM EDT
AARP insisted Friday it has not changed its position on Social Security, but acknowledged it could back some benefits cuts for future seniors to preserve the program.
In a statement, the nation’s largest lobbying group for seniors said it could only do so as part of a balanced deal to ensure Social Security’s solvency.
It also said any changes, such as increasing the age at which one is eligible for Social Security, would have to be phased in slowly and should not affect current beneficiaries.
The group released the statement after a report in The Wall Street Journal that said the AARP board had approved a new policy of backing benefit cuts. AARP decried the report as inaccurate, but also said it could agree to changes in the program.
Rand said AARP has been vetting various Social Security proposals with its board. He said AARP continues to oppose allowing optional private savings accounts in lieu of Social Security benefits as well as using Social Security in any deficit-reduction deal.
In the past, AARP senior lobbyist John Rother has said his organization does not hold the position that no cuts should be made under any circumstances.
This is the position of some groups, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), which would only use tax increases to make Social Security solvent after 2036.
AARP spokesperson Tiffany Lundquist said that AARP does not oppose all cuts in all situations.
Strengthen Social Security Campaign co-chairwoman Nancy Altman said Friday that she fears Senate leaders now will be swayed into backing Social Security.
“I think it gives cover to lots of politicians who would like to see cuts in the program,” she said. “It is very dangerous.”
She said that the Social Security can be fixed entirely by lifting the tax on payroll taxes used for the program.
In a conference call with reporters, members of a coalition of organizations opposing any cuts said AARP was not reflecting the position of its own members.
NCPSSM Acting CEO Max Richtman said by embracing benefit cuts publicly the AARP was “dragging this discussion of Social Security benefit cuts into the deficit discussion.” He said he worries politicians will now inject Social Security in deficit talks being led by Vice President Joe Biden.
“It is not a surprise. AARP has been wiggling for years. It is very disturbing that they would make this kind of statement at this time,” he said.
But Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director Ed Coyle said the AARP position was news to him and that if AARP persisted his group would have to “part ways” with AARP on Social Security.
The AARP news heartened the moderate group Third Way which has been pushing for a bipartisan deal on the program.
“Today marks a watershed moment in American politics. For decades, AARP has stood against any substantial changes to Social Security. Now that they have opened the door to reform, it is time for lawmakers to walk through it," Third Way President Jonathan Cowan said in a statement.