Budget debates in Washington are serving as a wake-up call for retirees, a key voting bloc in next year’s elections. While success among older voters in 2010 propelled Republicans to victory both in Congress and in state capitals, recently we are seeing signs of buyer’s remorse.
House Republicans are having a rocky time back home, with much of the wrath coming from seniors. Their anger is fueled by a House-passed privatization of Medicare that would drive up seniors’ health care costs as they fend for themselves in the wilds of the private insurance market. This plan, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), opens the door to cuts in Social Security benefits and a higher retirement age; the latter would be devastating for workers in physically-demanding blue collar and service sector jobs. Also, Medicaid – which helps seniors afford nursing home and long-term care – would be run by state governors such as Scott Walker, John Kasich, or Chris Christie. Seniors in those states better pray for good health.
As seniors learn more details of this plan, plus hear the heated rhetoric around the debt ceiling, they are beginning to feel that the very future of retirement is on the line. What about their children and grandchildren – will they ever be able to retire?
For this awakening of older voters to grow, seniors will need more reliable information than is currently provided by a news media that is easily distracted by sideshows of birth certificates and royal weddings. Americans must know that Social Security does not cause our deficit (it is supported by worker and employer taxes and has a $2.6 trillion surplus). Additionally, we cannot allow people to fall for Ryan’s shrewd but cynical ploy exempting those currently over age 55 from Medicare privatization. It’s not only bad policy, but also the tired politics of divide and conquer.
In the 2012 elections, the Alliance for Retired Americans will use organizers in key states, paid and earned media, and retiree-tailored fliers and fact sheets to help develop and mobilize politically savvy seniors who know the issues and where the candidates stand.
The past few months – marked by irresponsible spending votes that break the promise of Social Security and Medicare – have been both a sobering reminder and a wake-up call that a safe and secure retirement should not be taken for granted.
Barbara J. Easterling is president of the Alliance for Retired Americans. She was previously the secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. For more information, visit www.retiredamericans.org or call 1-800-333-7212.