AARP members sporting bright red polo shirts blitzed Capitol Hill Wednesday, calling on senators and House members to shield Social Security and Medicare from budget cuts during this period of national belt-tightening.
AARP officials said more than 500 members came from 23 states — by bus from nearby states like Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia and by plane from as far away as Montana and Texas. In addition to the shirts, members wore stickers proclaiming "I am NOT a pushover — Cut waste, not Medicare and Social Security benefits."
Individual members left no doubt about the anti-pushover slogan, which also is being aired on television and radio advertisements this month.
The message being delivered to Congress by Boni Braunbeck, 65, of Missoula, Mont., was soft but firm: "Don't mess with us," she said.
A sign in the sea of red echoed the sentiment: "I will vote in November," it read — as if the members of Congress, many of whom are already positioning themselves for the elections next fall, needed a reminder about the political clout of America's seniors.
A congressional "super-committee" is charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget reductions, with or without tax increases, by Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving. If the committee fails, automatic budget reductions are supposed to kick in. The risk, now regarded as a possibility by some analysts, is that if the super-committee deadlocks, the entire deficit issue will be pushed into the election and not resolved until after the voting in 2012.
But members of AARP want to make sure Congress avoids cutting favored programs.
"It has to come completely off the table," Braunbeck said of Social Security. "It should not be part of the whole discussion."
As for Medicare, Braunbeck said the problem is rising health care costs in general, not just in Medicare. She said the Medicare program should not take the brunt of budget cuts because the health care system itself is too costly.
AARP's director of grassroots advocacy, Fred Griesbach, whipped the crowd up with a rousing speech, telling them that they represented "your community, your family, your children, your grandchildren and your friends.