Reprieve! Thanks to the nearly 1 million AARP members who contacted their elected representatives directly and the millions more who signed our petition, Congress passed a debt ceiling bill that does not include immediate, harmful benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. You made a difference, and I applaud you. But our fight is far from over.
See also: It's time to protect Social Security.
Since this debate began, we have been fighting to stop the president and Congress from cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits as part of a deal to pay the nation's bills. While the debt ceiling bill passed by Congress and signed by the president is far from ideal, it does provide Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries with peace of mind, knowing they will receive their Social Security checks and continue to have access to their health care. And it protects Medicaid for the millions of low-income Americans, especially children and older people, who rely on the long-term services it provides.
Given some of the proposals that were being considered, this is a major victory. When AARP members and people 50-plus raised their voices to let Congress and the president know that the overwhelming majority of Americans want Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid protected, Congress did the right thing and avoided disaster.
But avoiding disaster is not the same as solving the problem. The debt ceiling bill is a reprieve, not a solution. We did not solve the long-term problems. Older Americans are deeply concerned about the deficit, and this bill is simply a down payment on reducing the long-term deficit. But most working families have spent decades paying into Social Security and Medicare and don't believe their benefits should be cut to reduce the deficit. Moreover, they understand that Social Security and Medicare are critical to economic security. They must be strengthened, not cut.
A super-committee, the congressional "Gang of 12" created by the bill, is charged with reducing the deficit by an additional $1.5 trillion between 2012 and 2021. Everything is on the table, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and revenues. The committee's deadline is Nov. 23, 2011, and Congress must vote on their recommendations by Dec. 23. If $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction is not approved, automatic, across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion would be enacted. Half would come from defense and half from domestic programs. Social Security, Medicaid, programs for the poor and cuts to Medicare beneficiaries would be exempted, but Medicare payments to providers would be cut.
So, we must keep up the fight to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. At the same time, we must begin a national discussion on how to strengthen these programs for the future. We must understand how any changes will affect beneficiaries and find ways to achieve more value for the dollars we spend. At AARP, we're prepared to lead this discussion. We need you to be engaged and to continue to let your voices be heard.
Call to action. Tell us how you'd strengthen Social Security and Medicare.
Also of interest: Washington's fiscal wars. What they mean to you. >>