Don’t make that call unless you change the message. The call is one the American Association for Retired Persons has been asking you to make on non-stop radio ads. You are asked to call Congressman Mike Thompson but when you dial the 800 number you are asked your zip code and then transferred to the voice mail of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. Thompson represents the wine country, not San Mateo County even though he started his political career here as an aide to then assemblyman Lou Papan and later Jackie Speier when she was in the Assembly.
The AARP message is to tell Congress not to touch Medicare in their budget negotiations following the fallout from the debt ceiling and government shutdown crisis. The AARP ad suggests that current seniors are in danger of losing their benefits. Not true and not likely to happen. Democrats see themselves as the creators and protectors of both Medicare and Social Security, while the tea party is made up of mostly retired people enjoying both entitlements. What was proposed in President Obama’s last budget proposal was a reduction of $370 billion from Medicare to be achieved by raising some fees and premiums (primarily on wealthy recipients) and making some cuts to providers.
AARP joins the parade of lobbyists who are now gearing up for the next big budget battle in Washington. Today these special interests have a bigger voice than any voting block because they provide the big political contributions and perks to members of Congress and they are often involved in writing the legislation which protects their clients. Defense contractors are preparing for full battle as automatic cuts, known as sequestration, could take affect in January and would cut an additional $20 billion from the defense budget. Meanwhile, AARP has launched a million dollar radio blitz warning that seniors are no bargaining chip.
I am a senior who enjoys the benefits of Social Security and Medicare, but let’s be honest — these entitlement programs, especially Medicare need to be made more efficient and more viable for future generations. Are all of those tests — blood, X-rays, MRIs — really necessary or are they just lining the pockets of some hospitals and doctors? And sometimes hurting and not helping the patient. When the original Medicare legislation was passed (despite the objections of Republicans including Ronald Reagan) no one expected so many Americans to live to 100 or more. Medical expenses in the last years of life are the most expensive. As for Social Security, people are living longer and middle age is now closer to 50 to 60 years than the 30 years of yesterday and people remain in the workforce well beyond 65, it makes sense to consider raising the age of eligibility. That makes economic sense except for those whose job has consisted of hard physical labor, long hours standing, where retirement at 65 makes sense. These issues should be on the negotiating table as long as tax code reforms including unfair tax loopholes for the rich are there as equal bargaining chips.
If all the lobbyists take a bite of the pie, there will be nothing left to discuss and we can expect an ongoing series of budget crises and the deterioration of the American economy as well as America’s global leadership.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas looks like the late senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin (except for the voice. McCarthy’s was more baritone; Cruz’s more soprano). McCarthy wanted to destroy individuals in his witch hunt for Communists. Cruz wants to bring down the country to raise his ratings with the nutty fringe on the right. It took a lawyer, Joseph Welch, to finally put down McCarthy (something President Eisenhower was afraid to do). When Welch announced on national television “Until this moment I never really gauged your cruelty or recklessness … Have you no sense of decency?” it was all over for the bullying McCarthy. Overnight, his national stature evaporated. He was censured by the Senate, ostracized by his party and ignored by the press. Hopefully, sensible Republicans will follow Welch’s example and make the Texas senator obsolete and ineffective.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.