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AARP Goes To Washington

October 12, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Hundreds of AARP members from Texas and across the nation will be in Washington today to tell Congress not to balance the budget with cuts to senior benefits.

AARP Texas volunteer Carla Penny is worried that the so-called congressional "super committee," charged with reining in the federal deficit, is considering cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

"Seniors are not a line item in a budget. We're people. And most of us are people who can ill afford to take a cut in our earned benefits."

Instead, Penny wants Congress to save money by closing tax loopholes and removing waste and fraud from government spending.

Tim Simmons, AARP's Texas outreach manager, will meet with several lawmakers, including Dallas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling, who co-chairs the "super committee." Hensarling has said his preferred deficit-cutting strategy is based on "reforming" entitlement programs. Simmons says that wouldn't be fair, considering half of elderly Americans make less than $19,000 a year, and the average Medicare recipient already pays $3,000 a year for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

"Around 2.9 million Texas Medicare beneficiaries and 3.3 million Texas Social Security recipients could be harmed if Congress makes these cuts."

Simmons does not oppose separate discussions about shoring up Medicare and Social Security, but says the aim should be preserving their solvency and effectiveness, not cutting them to balance the budget.

Some reform proposals have sought to ease senior fears by leaving current benefits alone but reducing payments to future recipients, raising the eligibility age and trimming elsewhere in the health-care system. Simmons says this would not only break a longstanding "contract" with younger Americans but also would create a variety of spin-off consequences for current retirees.

"If they begin to make other cuts - for example, payments to hospitals and doctors - doctors would refuse to accept Medicare, and that would really impact access to medical care for current older adults and for future recipients."

The 12-member "super committee" has until Thanksgiving to come up with a plan that cuts $1.5 trillion from the deficit over the next decade. If it doesn't succeed, deep cuts will be automatically triggered in 2013 to a wide range of domestic programs and the military. AARP is asking its members to weigh in on the debate today.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX