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Older Americans Oppose Social Security, Medicare Cuts to Fix Federal Debt

AARP survey finds overwhelming support among people 50+ for vital programs

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While the vast majority of Americans age 50 and older say the federal budget deficit is a big problem, almost that same majority strongly oppose using cuts to Social Security or Medicare benefits to reduce that debt, according to a new AARP survey.

Opposition to reducing either Social Security or Medicare benefits transcended party lines in the survey. Among all respondents age 50-plus, 85 percent strongly oppose cutting Social Security and the same percentage strongly oppose decreasing Medicare benefits to reduce the federal deficit. The survey also found that 87 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 88 percent of Republicans strongly oppose cutting Social Security. When asked about Medicare, 87 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 86 percent of Republicans said they strongly oppose reducing that program's benefits.

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Among all respondents, 87 percent said the federal deficit is a big problem, with 56 percent viewing it as a “very big” problem and another 31 percent saying it is a “moderately big” problem. More Republicans see the federal debt as a big problem (99 percent) than Democrats (73 percent) and independents (87 percent).

According to AARP research, nearly half (49 percent) of all Social Security recipients over age 65 rely on the program's benefits for at least half their income. And about a quarter of Social Security beneficiaries over age 65 live in families that rely on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income.

Social Security and Medicare were particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic, with the former being a stable source of income for more than 34 million older households and the latter providing critical health care coverage to more than 62 million enrollees, according to AARP research.

The AARP survey, which was conducted among 1,016 people age 50 and over from April 22 through April 26, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent. The survey was fielded soon after legislation was reintroduced in Congress that would establish small “rescue committees” whose job would be to propose changes to Social Security and Medicare as well as federal highway programs.

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AARP opposes TRUST Act

Under the Time to Rescue United States’ Trusts Act — or TRUST Act, for short — all it would take for legislation cutting these programs to be fast-tracked in Congress would be for seven members of one of these rescue committees to support a proposed bill. Under the act, lawmakers would be unable to make any changes to a TRUST Act bill once it went to the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate.

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“Older Americans overwhelmingly oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit. Proposals like the TRUST Act would give a handful of lawmakers the power to propose cuts behind closed doors with fast-track legislative consideration with minimum transparency and oversight from voters,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement Officer. “On behalf of AARP’s nearly 38 million members, we call for full and open debate that ensures public input on protecting the future of our earned benefits. All members of Congress should be held accountable for any action on Social Security and Medicare.”

The TRUST Act was first introduced in 2019 but has not become law. AARP has strongly opposed this and other such measures, supporting instead broad public debate. The organization has urged Americans to make their voices heard in support of both Medicare and Social Security, and so far nearly 250,000 individuals have sent messages to their federal lawmakers demanding that they oppose the latest TRUST Act.

Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.

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