There are few easy answers when it comes to Social Security. And now one of the simpler questions appears to have gotten tougher.
Where does AARP stand on Social Security benefits?
"I knew that they were always claiming to be for no change in benefits. They've been upfront and always lobbying about that," said Jim Albrecht, a 66-year-old AARP member in Lenexa, Kan. "I would have said, 'Of course that's what their position is.'"
Albrecht would have known the answer, that is, until he read a recent Wall Street Journal article. Now, he and scores of other AARP members don't know.
The article said AARP's leadership and board had endured a wrenching debate and decided to drop the lobbying group's long-standing opposition to benefit cuts as part of a revamp of Social Security. It said the group had concluded that changes were inevitable, that they would have to affect benefits and that AARP needed to be involved to minimize the pain.
Social Security's future has come under increasing debate in part because population changes have reduced sharply the number of workers paying into the program relative to the number of retirees and others receiving benefits.
The Journal's report, which relied heavily on AARP policy chief John Rother, said the policy change had not been revealed to AARP members.
AARP, with 37 million members age 50 and older, has long been a leading voice in Social Security policy matters. For example, it's opposed efforts to divert some of the program's funding into private investment accounts.
And its financial girth -- including $1.3 billion in revenues last year from dues, contributions, insurance royalties and other sources -- ensures its voice is heard on many issues in Washington.
A dramatic shift in the group's policy toward benefit cuts could be critical in reshaping Social Security.
AARP, however, has called The Journal's article and other media coverage of the matter "inaccurate" and "misleading."
An online post by A. Barry Rand, CEO of the Washington-based group, said it had not changed its position on Social Security, "and, as we have for decades, we will continue to protect this bedrock of lifetime financial security for all generations of Americans."
Right now that means putting Social Security off-limits in the intensifying debate in Washington this week about cutting the deficit. Only later, said another senior AARP official, will the group engage debate about Social Security's long-term future.
"That debate, quite frankly, really hasn't started," said David Certner, AARP's legislative policy director.
Betsy Frick is unimpressed. The 70-year-old from the St. Louis area said she's done with AARP and will not renew her membership that ran out in April.
"I feel betrayed," she said.
Frick hadn't seen The Wall Street Journal. But a similar report from The New York Times that ran in her local newspaper left her hopping mad.
"I jumped up and down and screamed in anger," Frick said.
Frick said she stewed, whined to some friends and then vented by posting a comment to Rand's online response. She wasn't alone.
Rand's post has drawn more than 100 anonymous and overwhelmingly unhappy comments on the organization's website. Many posters threatened to leave the group if The Journal's report was true.
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