New DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

MINNEAPOLIS – Liberals and retirement security advocates were alarmed to read a story today that the AARP has dropped its objection to Social Security benefit cuts. They have since tried to clarify the issue by saying their position hadn’t changed, but the clarification was not in a reassuring way: they basically said they always allowed for benefit cuts as part of a balanced solution. “It has … been a long held position that any changes would be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near term beneficiaries,” said CEO A. Barry Rand.

The oddest part of this story was that Social Security seemed to be out of the mix in the Biden deficit talks. This has alarmed advocates, who think that AARP may have put this back up for discussion. Eric Kingson said he wants to burn his AARP card.

I asked DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz about all this today, as she greeted attendees at Netroots Nation. She was fairly blunt. “I will tell you that benefit cuts are not on the table,” she said. “They’re not on the table for me and they’re not on the table for our party in the House.”

Wasserman Schultz was not totally familiar with AARP’s position, but she stressed that Social Security “will be solvent until long after I retire, and I’m 44.” She said that in order to get added years of solvency, you could put together a solution if there were two willing sides, but Republicans have shown no evidence that they want to enter into that discussion in anything but a one-sided way.

But she came back again to the main point, that “benefit cuts are off the table” as Democrats work to preserve the long-term health safety net. Coming from the DNC Chair, that means at least something.

Sen. Mark Begich also commented on this. He showed me on his Blackberry the clarification statement from the AARP. “We’re clear, as Senate Democrats, that it’s not part of the deficit discussion,” he said. “It’s a mathematical issue, and we can resolve that. But it’s not a part of the deficit.” He added that Democrats have to be careful with cannibalizing the payroll tax cut, which leads to an impression that Social Security funding does come out of general revenue, which could bring it more into the light as a budget issue.

To be clear, AARP stressed as well that Social Security should not be used for deficit reduction, and that the two issues, the budget and Social Security, should be separate. But it’s better to hear the decision makers saying the same thing.

I’ll put AARP’s full clarification statement on the flip.

“Let me be clear – AARP is as committed as we’ve ever been to fighting to protect Social Security for today’s seniors and strengthening it for future generations. Contrary to the misleading characterization in a recent media story, AARP has not changed its position on Social Security.
“First, we are currently fighting some proposals in Washington to cut Social Security to reduce a deficit it did not cause. Social Security should not be used as a piggy bank to solve the nation’s deficit. Any changes to this lifeline program should happen in a separate, broader discussion and make retirement more secure for future generations, not less.

“Our focus has always been on the human impact of changes, not just the budget tables. Which is why, as we have done numerous times over the last several decades, AARP is engaging our volunteer Board to evaluate any proposed changes to Social Security to determine how each might – individually or in different combinations – impact the lives of current and future retirees given the constantly changing economic realities they face.

“Second, we have maintained for years – to our members, the media and elected officials – that long term solvency is key to protecting and strengthening Social Security for all generations, and we have urged elected officials in Washington to address the program’s long-term challenges in a way that’s fair for all generations.

“It has long been AARP’s policy that Social Security should be strengthened to provide adequate benefits and that it is sufficiently financed to ensure solvency with a stable trust fund for the next 75 years. It has also been a long held position that any changes would be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near term beneficiaries.

“AARP strongly opposed a privatization plan in 2005, and continues to oppose this approach, because it would eliminate the guarantee that Social Security provides and reduce benefits, and we are currently fighting proposals to cut Social Security to pay the nation’s bills.

“Social Security is a critically important issue for our members, their families and Americans of all ages, especially at a time when many will have less retirement security than previous generations with fewer pensions, less savings and rising health care costs. And, as we have been for decades, we will continue to protect this bedrock of lifetime financial security for all generations of Americans.”