An article in Friday's Wall Street Journal has Social Security advocates angry and scratching their heads. It suggests that AARP -- one of the most powerful interest groups in Washington -- has done an about face on the question of cutting retirement benefits for seniors as part of a grand bipartisan bargain on shoring up the programs finances.
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The change in posture, agreed to by AARP's board, has already sent shock waves through the Beltway's large and influential entitlement reform community. It's prompted calls from lawmakers and centrist and conservative groups for Congress to seize the initiative and agree to cut benefits. It's mobilized Social Security's strongest advocates against AARP, and it's prompted AARP to initiate a partial walk back -- a statement calling the story "misleading, but reiterating that the group could support Social Security reforms if they don't cause future retirees too much pain.
"It has also been a long held position that any changes would be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near term beneficiaries," says AARP CEO A. Barry Rand -- in other words, the group could support some cuts, so long as they only impact people many years away from retirement.
But conversations with insiders suggest the Journal story, while mostly on point, underplays a key part of the story. What AARP decided doesn't necessarily constitute a change in policy, but rather a major strategic decision to announce their acceptance of those cuts now, while the legislative zeitgeist is about "fiscal responsibility", instead of later.