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Which Side Are You On? Fiscal Cliff Edition

1:27 pm in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

Firedoglake’s pledge drive to strengthen – not cut – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits has grown to over 70,000 activists. By mobilizing to make phone calls, office visits, run ads, write letters and more, our activists have played an important role in preventing benefit cuts from taking place over the past 4 years.

We’re reviving our pledge drive for the latest showdown, vowing to withhold support from any politician who participates in cutting Social Security, Medicare and/or Medicaid benefits.

It’s time to ask our elected officials: Which side are you on?

Here is my email to our activists:

Pledge to Protect Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid From Benefit Cuts

Dear Firedoglake activist,

Will Democrats in the House and Senate stand firm in opposition to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cuts, or cave to the President's "Grand Bargain" strategy of trading cuts for tax increases on the wealthy? Raising taxes on the rich is essential to growing our economy, but we cannot throw the poor, elderly and disabled to the wolves to do so.

Unfortunately, Democratic party leaders like Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin are following the President's lead, proposing a separate commission just to cut Social Security to entice GOP negotiators. Critical resistance is taking root in response as Chicago activists have planned a "Durbinville" shanty town to symbolize the depression-era conditions millions of Americans will face as a result.

Firedoglake is once again organizing our pledge not to support any elected official who votes for cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.

Add your name to our campaign: "I pledge not to support any elected official who votes to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits."

Social Security is the biggest and most successful anti-poverty program in America, especially among senior citizens. That means any discussion we should be having about Social Security should involve expanding benefits — not cutting them.

While the idea that we face a "deficit crisis" is far-fetched in the first place, shoring up the budget by attacking programs like Medicare and Medicaid that reduce out-of-pocket medical expenses (the largest contributing factor to poverty today) is heartless and horrific. In engineering the 'fiscal cliff' during the debt ceiling negotiations a year ago, the deficit scolds have put forth the threat of another recession as the public's punishment should we refuse to accept their austerity plan.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid continue to provide an essential anti-poverty service to the most vulnerable among us despite repeated attempts to weaken and dismantle them. Cutting their benefits at a time like this makes no sense and we have to stand firm and tell our elected officials they will be held accountable for voting for any program that includes them.

FDL activists have consistently played an important role in opposing cuts to these vital programs. Taking the pledge is the first step in our continued resistance that will include organizing petitions, call campaigns, office visits, advertisements and much more around the Fiscal Cliff negotiations and beyond.

Take the pledge: "I will not support any elected official who votes to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits."

We have to do everything we can to speak out against any Grand Bargain achieved on the backs of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare recipients. Please join us in opposing benefit cuts today.

In solidarity,

Brian Sonenstein
Campaign Director,

What’s Next in the Battle to Protect Social Security?

6:47 am in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

Want to know the latest on the pro-austerity campaign to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits behind the public’s back?

Join our Firedoglake Membership webinar Wednesday, August 29th at 8pm Eastern on “Catfood 3.0 and the Ongoing Fight to Protect Social Security” with special guests Nancy Altman, Eric Kingson and Alex Lawson of Social Security Works.

The deficit scolds have set up a seemingly never-ending system of triggers and deadlines to force ‘solutions’ to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid budgets that would reduce benefits and do irrevocable harm to these critical programs. From the debt ceiling debacle to the upcoming fiscal cliff, our country has been led into a vicious cycle of fear mongering and misinformation on the deficit that only becomes more entrenched with time.

Now that secret committee meetings have failed twice to impose unpopular austerity programs on the public, corporate heavyweights and their friends on Capitol Hill are forming groups like Fix the Debt, raising millions of dollars to lobby Congress into passing harmful reforms that throw society’s most vulnerable under the bus in the name of so-called ‘fiscal responsibility.’

By making our voices heard once more in opposition to benefit cuts, we can continue to fight back attempts to destroy some of the most successful programs in our country’s history.

Nancy, Eric and Alex will take us through the forces waging the war on benefits and give us their thoughts on what we can do to stop this and future, inevitable assaults on these programs.

If you’re already a Firedoglake Member, you can register here or check your email in the coming days for an invitation.

If you’re not a Firedoglake Member, click here to join for as little as $45/year and we’ll send you an invitation to the webinar.

Catfood 3.0: Astroturf Edition!

12:23 pm in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles cannot take “no” for an answer.

After two years and two failed attempts to gin up public support for their horrific austerity agenda known as the Simpson-Bowles plan (aka the Catfood Commission plan here and elsewhere), the deficit scolds are coming out of the woodwork to form an astroturf supergroup called Fix the Debt.

Their goal? Fix the Debt aims to raise around $100 million in the next few months (with the help of their 1% sugardaddies like Honeywell CEO David Cote and wealthy benefit cut crusader Pete Peterson) to collect 10 million petition signatures in support of pushing a legislative version of the Catfood Commission plan through Congress.

With the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming in the not-so-distant future, the announcement of Fix the Debt’s formation signals the beginning of a campaign to provide whatever political cover necessary to shove unpopular policies down the throats of the American public.

We’re fighting back by asking activists to preemptively call members of Congress about this astroturf group to cut benefits, and not to support their work.

Click here to call your member of Congress to oppose Fix the Debt.

FDL has been fighting Simpson-Bowles for over 2 years now and we have no intention of stopping now. We will be following Fix the Debt closely and keep our activists at the ready to push back on any attempt to force an austerity agenda through Congress.

How AARP Can REALLY Help Seniors and Retirees

9:36 am in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

In response to AARP’s narrow questionnaire and possible leanings toward supporting benefit cuts, Firedoglake has teamed up with CREDO Action, National Organization for Women, Social Security Works and other organizations to launch our own version of the AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say” survey, slightly modified to be more precise and more inclusive of all views on the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Firedoglake collected over 9,000 responses this weekend, and we’re running ads and circulating the survey to hear from as many people as possible. Once we’ve all collected our responses, our coalition will publish the results in full– but until then, I wanted to offer a peek at some of the results we’ve received thus far.

If you haven’t taken our survey on the future of Social Security and Medicare benefits, you may do so here.

Question #4 on AARP’s Survey reads:

When it comes to securing the future of Medicare and Social Security, which of the following do you expect:
A: More funding will be needed to maintain the same benefits
B: Benefits will be reduced
C: Either A or B
D: None of the above

This question is one of the most skewed on AARP’s survey, offering no opportunities for the individual to expect or hope for benefit increases– only a status quo described as hard to maintain, or worse. The question also lumps together Social Security and Medicare – two different programs with different needs. These are not good baseline options for defending Social Security and Medicare, and its hard to imagine this question producing an honest response from participants.

To get a better idea of what people really think about the future of Social Security and Medicare, we broke it in two: one on Social Security, one on Medicare. We also asked what folks wanted on this issue from AARP specifically, as well as added an option for people to express their desire for expanded benefits and cost controls – not just the same benefits, less benefits or higher taxes.

Here’s what came back:

When it comes to securing the future of Social Security, which of the following do you want AARP to fight for? AARP Member Non-Member Overall
More funding to maintain or possibly increase benefits 86.7% 89.6% 87.9%
A combination of tax increases and benefits cuts. 4.4% 3.4% 3.9%
Benefit cuts without tax increases 0.2% 0.4% 0.3%
None of the above 8.8% 6.7% 7.9%


When it comes to securing the future of Medicare, which of the following do you want AARP to fight for? AARP Member Non-Member Overall
Reduced benefits 0.2% 0.2% 0.2%
Expanding benefits by requiring everyone to pay somewhat more. 21.5% 24% 22.6%
Stronger and better cost controls on insurers, and hospitals, and other health care providers 72.6% 69% 71.1%
None of the above 5.7% 6.8% 6.2%

I was unable to locate any published results of AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say” online questionnaire, but it’s clear from our sample that regardless of membership in the organization, folks aren’t content with the status quo and they certainly don’t want less. In fact, they want the nation’s largest, wealthiest elderly advocate to go out there and demand more on their behalf.

Our survey is still wide open, so click here to fill it out if you haven’t already. We’ll continue to monitor AARP’s “You’ve Earned A Say” tour and will keep you updated on results from our coalition survey.

Call AARP: Stop the E Street Exchange!

8:36 am in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

Call AARP: (888)-687-2277
End Back-Room Strategy Sessions
to Support Benefit Cuts!

» Click here for a call script

This evening, well-known Social Security opponents will meet with AARP CEO Barry Rand for a private, off-the-record ‘salon’ known as the “E Street Exchange.”

The seniors’ advocacy group held similar strategy sessions last year just two months before announcing they would drop their opposition to benefit cuts like raising the retirement age.

This begs the question: will AARP flex its massive wealth and influence in the debate over the future of Social Security on behalf of their 40 million plus dues-paying members and the majority of Americans who strongly oppose benefit cuts and overwhelmingly support expanding benefits? Or will they do it at the behest of a few wealthy scions of industry who have made repeated attempts to dismantle the social safety net to the benefit of their own bottom lines?

Unfortunately, the facts seem to stack up in favor of the latter, and AARP has a history of trying to get the American public to believe that cuts are inevitable (see: “the ship was sailing”) when in fact they are not inevitable.

Whether or not you’re an AARP member or retired, you should be deeply concerned about these events, because what AARP eventually decides to do will set the tone for debate on Social Security and Medicare going forward. We can’t wait for the outcome of the E Street Exchange to act – we need to make our voices heard right now, and demand AARP end the back-room strategy sessions to prepare the weasel words and misleading data points to advance benefit cuts.

AARP should listen to what their members and the majority of Americans actually want when it comes to the social safety net: expanded benefits, not cuts.

Call AARP today to demand they listen to the majority of Americans on the future of Social Security and Medicare and end strategy sessions to cut benefits.

Contact AARP: Tel: (888) 687-2277 | Email:
Click here for a script to use when calling.

If you can’t call today, please donate $10 or more to run advertisements to AARP members.

Through online surveys and listening tours, AARP purports to give its membership a chance to speak their minds on how they would like the organization to protect the social safety net. With over 40 million members, it’s likely that AARP members agree with the majority of Americans and support expanding access to benefits.

But the reality is that AARP has done pathetically little to engage its members in a real conversation on their hopes for the future of the social safety net – while going out of their way to privately coddle individuals who have made the pursuit of benefit cuts their life’s work. As I previously wrote, AARP’s survey gives little opportunity to anyone who would like to suggest that maybe the social safety net is not in extreme peril.

I can’t promise that we’ll be able to stop the E Street Exchange and other meetings like it, but it’s still imperative that you call today and speak out against any and all efforts to advocate for cuts to critical programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

As we’ve seen over the past few years, our elite political classes will stop at nothing to dismantle the social safety net for their own gain. This attempt to put AARP’s influence on the side of benefit cuts is disgraceful, and we won’t stop until as many people know about it as possible.

Call AARP today to demand they listen to the majority of Americans on the future of Social Security and Medicare, and end strategy sessions to cut benefits.

Thank you in advance for making your voice heard to AARP today. With your help, we hope to once again keep them on the side of seniors – not Wall Street.

Tell AARP CEO Barry Rand to End Back-Room Strategy Sessions With Safety Net Opponents

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

The Huffington Post reports that AARP CEO Barry Rand is inviting outspoken safety net opponents to an “off-the-record, salon style” meeting on March 27th on the future of social security, called The E Street Exchange.

The guest list includes US Chamber of Commerce Tom Donohue, Merrill Lynch Executive Harold Ford Jr., former MI Gov. John Engler from the Business Rountable for corporate CEO’s and others who have gone on record repeatedly in favor of benefit cuts to critical programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Once again, AARP is working behind the scenes to build support for benefit cuts while masquerading about as an ardent defender of the safety net to its massive, dues-paying membership.

This is outrageous, and AARP should immediately call off the event and disavow this shameful attempt to throw its weight behind benefit cuts. Firedoglake is demanding AARP CEO Barry Rand cancel the E Street Exchange and end back-room strategy sessions with prominent social safety net opponents.

Tell AARP CEO Barry Rand to cancel the E Street Exchange event and abandon his efforts to throw AARP’s support behind benefit cuts.

Click here to add your name:

Last summer, our campaign of over 32,000 activists was successful in getting AARP to backtrack after their board voted to drop its opposition to social safety net cuts.

But while AARP is offering a pathetic 6-question survey and ‘town hall series’ called “You Earned A Say and We’re Listening” as a gesture towards “listening” to their 40 million+ membership, it seems they are most interested in adopting the same kind of off-the-record, unaccountable negotiations over benefit cuts that have characterized numerous attempts to dismantle the social safety net over the past few years — from the Catfood Commission to the Super Committee.

Laughably, while Rand’s E Street Exchange is holding “relaxed and robust” discussions on “Strengthening Social Security: Facing up to the Challenge” with Washington’s 1%, AARP’s survey assures its members: “…AARP is taking the debate about the future of these programs out from behind closed doors in Washington, so you can make your voice heard.”

Clearly, just from looking at the invitation to their salon style talk, nothing could be further from the truth.

Tell AARP CEO Barry Rand to cancel the E Street Exchange event and abandon his efforts to throw AARP’s support behind benefit cuts.

The E Street Exchange is scheduled to take place in Washington, DC on March 27th, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop this silent assault on the social safety net. I hope you will join us in once again holding AARP accountable for its actions.