AARP Changes Course on Social Security

| Fri Jun. 17, 2011 11:17 AM EDT

Social Security's most powerful defender has had a change of heart:

AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington's debate over how to revamp the nation's entitlement programs.

...."The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens," said John Rother, AARP's long-time policy chief and a prime mover behind its change of heart.

....There are limits to how far AARP is willing to go. The group will accept cuts, but won't champion them, and it is particularly leery of certain concepts such as eliminating benefits for wealthier recipients....It wants tax increases to fill most of the program's financial hole, and it insists that a deal must be crafted apart from broader deficit-reduction negotiations.

Unlike most liberals, I welcome this. I continue to think, as I have for a long time, that (a) Social Security ought to be put on a firmer financial footing, (b) this can be done with a very modest package of tax increases and benefit cuts, and (c) this would satisfy centrist critics like the Peterson foundation and the Washington Post, and without their help the ideologues who want to destroy Social Security would have no ground to stand on. They'd keep yelping, but no one would pay any attention to them.

A deal that increased revenue by about 1% of GDP and cut benefits by 0.5% of GDP, phased in from 2020 through 2040, could be done without adopting terrible ideas like an increase in the retirement age and would be practically painless for everyone involved. It would take Social Security off the table for a long, long time, and that's well worth doing. Right now I don't think you can get Republican support for a plan like this, and it's not as if there's any big crisis here that has to be solved immediately. But if a deal like this does become possible someday, liberals would be smart to take it.

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