The nation’s largest advocacy group for seniors says it’s nonpartisan, but its support for the Obama administration’s health care push places it on the side of bigger government yet again.
”I have the distinct honor of introducing a great American who has for all of his life worked for those who are in need and fought for the middle class,” Barry Rand, chief executive officer of AARP, said as he introduced Vice President Joe Biden last Thursday in Alexandria, Virginia.
Rand was addressing an audience of mostly older Americans, some adorned with red vests stamped with the AARP logo, about the urgent need for health care legislation. The gathering, which also included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House Health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, was billed as a meeting of Biden’s “Middle Class Task Force.”
After taking the lectern, Biden expressed delight at having the backing of AARP.
“I was a United States Senator since I was 29 years old, my experience is I’ve never lost with the AARP behind me,” he boasted.
The event was just the latest sign of the strong ties that the nation’s largest organization of older Americans has forged with the Obama administration as part of its push to overhaul America’s health care system.
“Together, we will complete the mission for comprehensive health care reform,” Rand declared at a recent White House event to announce a deal between AARP and the pharmaceutical industry. “Thank you for your leadership on this issue, Mr. President.”
During the current debate, AARP has funded ads pushing for health care legislation and hosted town-hall style events throughout the country. It has set up a website called “Health Action Now,” which urges visitors to sign a petition, imploring, “President Obama has promised health reform before the end of the year — but we need to make sure that Congress follows through.” The site even has a feature in which users enter their phone number, wait for their phone to ring, and are automatically connected to their member of Congress, so that they can deliver AARP’s message that “the time for action is now.”
Of course, with one party controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, “action now” effectively means supporting Democratic legislation.
AARP aims to represent the interests of Americans over 50 years old. In the 2008 presidential election, the 45 to 64 age group split their votes nearly evenly, 50 percent for Obama and 49 percent for McCain, while McCain comfortably beat Obama in the over-65 age group, 53 percent to 45 percent. Clearly, AARP includes Republicans among its 40 million members, many of whom join the group to purchase insurance or to enjoy discounts. But the group routinely uses its money and influence to promote policies that would result in higher taxes and a larger role for government.
Though AARP bills itself as nonpartisan, its support for the current administration’s policies stands in stark contrast to the aggressive campaign it waged to help kill President Bush’s drive to reform Social Security in 2005. AARP’s backing of Obama’s health care agenda has not been deterred even though he has proposed paying for universal health care, in part, with $622 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years.
Rand, who took the helm at AARP in March, was a strong backer of Obama in last year’s election, having contributed a total of $8,900 to the campaign’s various committees.
The seniors’ group does not make campaign contributions, but at the request of TAS, the Center for Responsive Politics analyzed federal election data of those who listed themselves as employees of AARP. While the actual dollar figures involved are low and there were only 123 such records available for the 2008 election cycle, the partisan breakdown was lopsided.
The analysis found that individuals linked to AARP gave $48,801 to Democratic candidates, party committees, and leadership PACs, compared with only $5,121 to Republicans — meaning more than 90 percent of the money went to Democrats. (These figures do not include those AARP employees who may have contributed but did not identify their employer, nor did they include Rand, who did not work for the group until this year.)
When contacted for this article, representatives for AARP pushed back strongly against the insinuation that they were a partisan group, and defended the rationale for their stances in support of the Obama administration.
“The President has proposed savings in Medicare and we have basically been in favor of trying to reduce the cost of Medicare by reducing waste and fraud and finding efficiencies,” said David Certner, director of legislative policy at AARP. “That’s been our goal in this whole context, to see if we can come up with ways to lower the cost of Medicare, which will help make the program strong and still protect our beneficiaries from higher costs, copays, premiums, deductibles and so forth.”
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