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Seniors groups organize retirees for Obama this fall

By Alex P.

By Alex P. Kellogg

A coalition of progressive advocacy groups for seniors are revving up their efforts to educate elderly Americans about the deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits they say are certain to be implemented if Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wins November’s election.

Romney has endorsed Wisconsin House Republican Paul Ryan’s budget, which these groups say will lead to millions of Americans not being able to make ends meet.

Two of the most active groups, Social Security Works, an umbrella organization, and the Alliance of Retired Americans, which has 4 million paid members, the vast majority union retirees, are holding more than 100 events in August alone. Hundreds more will follow, ranging from pressers to celebrations of Social Security’s August 14 birthday to luncheons and conferences focused on senior issues.

Social Security Works includes more than 300 national and state organizations representing 50-million-plus Americans. The aim is to recapture the 65-and-over vote, which Republicans won by a whopping 21% margin in 2010. 


The SEIU, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, the NAACP and the National Organization for Women are among the other active members of the coalition.   

Efforts by left-leaning senior advocacy groups to inform seniors of the risks they argue exist to their benefits began in earnest in July.  The Alliance for Retired Americans sent dozens of members of Congress cakes and cards on July 30, the 47th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid becoming law. They targeted Republicans in tight state legislative and national races in particular. 

Protests were held in recent weeks at the offices of lawmakers such as Michael Fitzpatrick, a Republican for Pennsylvania’s eighth district who strongly favors Ryan’s budget.

Social Security Works will also release state-by-state data detailing the number of senior beneficiaries who rely on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on August 14, the 77th birthday of Social Security.

Republican presidential candidates won the senior vote by smaller, but still definitive margins in 2004 and 2008. The senior vote was the only age group Republican presidential candidate John McCain won.

Romney’s endorsement of Ryan’s budget has repeatedly been attacked by President Obama, even though Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, is the most prominent voice on fiscal issues in the Republican Party.

The Congressional Budget Office, a federal agency that provides economic data to Congress, estimates that in today’s dollars new Medicare beneficiaries would see benefits reduced by several hundred dollars by 2023, more than $1,200 in 2030 and more than $5,900 by 2050 if Ryan’s budget passes. 

Ryan has also proposed upping the Medicare-eligibility age to 67 from 65 in 2023. Earlier this summer, House Republican leader John Boehner went a step further, saying he’s in favor of raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement.

“The Ryan budget… will almost certainly shift costs to the most vulnerable among us—seniors and people with disabilities,” wrote Nancy Altman, co-founder of Social Security Works, in an email to Lean Forward this week.

Altman was former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s assistant when he chaired a bipartisan commission that helped solidify the financial foundation of Social Security in 1983.

Altman added that states "would feel enormous pressure” to cut back on Medicaid protections to free up funding.

The Alliance for Retired Americans estimates that the GOP budget could raise health care costs by $4,300 for nearly one million individuals if it is implemented. The alliance also estimates that if Ryan’s budget passed 70% of Social Security beneficiaries would lose a huge chunk of their benefits—nearly 30% for the average retiree in 2080.

Ryan’s budget would also repeal Obama’s health care law, which would mean seniors too young to be eligible for government benefits could once again have a harder time buying insurance on the private market if they have pre-existing health conditions.

Ryan is rumored to be receiving serious consideration as a running mate by Romney’s campaign.

His fiscal plan passed the Republican-controlled House in April and has since been adopted as a key part of the party’s 2012 campaign platform. 

President Obama has derided Ryan’s budget repeatedly, calling it “antithetical to our history as a land of opportunity.” 

Ryan has repeatedly defended the cuts he’s proposing to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as necessary to lower the federal budget deficit and ensure their solvency.

Framing Romney’s support of Ryan’s budget as not just a doomsday scenario for seniors, but a bad news for all Americans, is part of a larger effort by progressives.

“We want to show that this is not something self-interested on the part of seniors, but this is something for their children and their grandchildren,” says Edward Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, which has 1,500 local chapters organizing 62 events in 27 states this month.

While not every event will tell seniors how to vote, “first and foremost we want to re-elect the president,” he said.