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AARP revises its stance on benefits after members' backlash

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By The Washington Post
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 7:22 p.m.

WASHINGTON — AARP, the lobbying powerhouse for older Americans, last year made a dramatic concession. Amid a national debate over whether to overhaul Social Security, the group said for the first time that it was open to cuts in benefits.

The backlash from AARP members and liberal groups that oppose changes in the program was enormous — and this time around, as Washington debates how to tame the ballooning federal debt, AARP is flatly opposed to any benefit reductions for the nation's retirees.

AARP's rejection of any significant changes to the nation's safety net could be a major factor as policymakers seek a deal to put the government's finances in order through raising taxes and cutting spending on federal programs, possibly including popular entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security.

Republicans say scaling back Social Security and Medicare, the largest drivers of future government deficits, is necessary. President Obama has previously been open to benefit cuts.

For lawmakers who would have to vote for such changes, AARP's 37 million members and $1.3 billion budget are a force to be reckoned with.

Over the past eight months, AARP has sponsored a series of candidate debates, run television ads, circulated questionnaires and held more than 4,000 meetings across the country to mobilize its legion of supporters to oppose any cuts.

Under the slogan “You've earned a say,” the group has been building opposition to entitlement changes. A recent poll by the organization found that 70 percent of Americans 50 and older think Medicare and Social Security should not be part of the upcoming fiscal debate.

“We're fighting to stop cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that will hurt beneficiaries,” said AARP's top lobbyist, Nancy LeaMond. “We want to ensure that Social Security is not part of this deficit discussion.”

A recent issue of the AARP Bulletin — the largest circulation magazine in the world, sent to all its members — warned seniors that the proposed change to Social Security previously embraced by Obama and Republicans could cost “a potential cumulative loss of thousands of dollars.” The organization followed that with a letter to all members of Congress cautioning against Social Security changes.

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