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AARP Board of Directors Public Policy Meeting - Day 2

Medicare reform, litigation as a policy tool, pensions and economic security issues were topics at today's meeting of the AARP Board of Directors' annual Public Policy Meeting.

Board members heard presentations from Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) on investor confidence and corporate accountability, and Representative Ben Cardin (D-MD) on pension reform. The Board also heard from James Tierney, former Maine Attorney General and Columbia Law School adjunct professor, on the role of litigation in public policy, and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) on Medicare reform. HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson also discussed Medicare and Medicaid issues.

Sarbanes said a major fight is looming on the horizon over Medicare and Social Security reform and said he was opposed to a strategy that would undercut the fundamental strengths of either program.

He cited a recent AARP study of the impact the stock market downturn has had on mid-life and older American investors and urged that it be distributed widely noting that it "demonstrated the iceberg of the issue."

Noting that the SEC needs leadership, Sarbanes said he expects confirmation this week of a new Commission chairman who could be on the job next week. Essential, he said, is restoration of confidence and moral at the agency; and the end to the exodus of highly qualified staff from the agency. He expressed confidence that the SEC budget, under funded for many years, would be increased.

Sarbanes said he does not support the Administration's fiscal policy that projects deficits into the future. The President's budget, he said, contains no provisions for war. "It is reckless to give away any economic margin we have."

Effort to construct a system to screen out the bad apples, raise the level of conduct and review, get auditors back to being auditors.

Cardin, an authority on tax policy, pension reform, and health care, urged AARP to continue to be key player in the pension reform debate.

Tax cuts during a time of war, potential domestic terrorism, and homeland security concerns don't make sense, he said, noting that there is a need for shared sacrifice by the American people in preparing to meet the future. "The President has not come up with an economic strategy to address these issues."

The US is first among industrialized nations in all economic indicators except in savings, he noted. "We've seen an erosion of private savings and retirement plans over the past several decades, an erosion of what people can put away for their retirement."

Expand savers credits, no longer fund golden parachute, make it easier for roll-overs, and offer more choice in individual retirement savings plans. Skeptical of President's plan and does not favor sheltering income, shelter doesn't help, doesn't encourage savings."

Cardin said retirement accounts should be used for retirement. He said he does not favor allowing withdrawals of funds before reaching retirement age to be used for other purposes.

Tierney, the former Attorney General of the State of Maine, said public advocacy without a litigation component is like a carpenter without having access to his sharpest tools. "The process of litigation puts issues in front of us, brings them out of the dark." Litigation is an essential part of public advocacy.

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