Back in 2003, Republican leaders praised the AARP for its support of President Bush's unfunded and deeply flawed Medicare prescription benefit. But now that the 40 million member organization has endorsed the House Democrats' health care reform bill, the GOP is declaring war on its one-time ally. Helping lead the attack is an array of industry-funded front groups and their reactionary has-been spokesmen like Pat Boone.
Last week, Republican Congressmen Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Mike Pence (R-IN) implied the nation's leading organization for seniors was in for the ACORN treatment from the GOP and its media allies. Despite the thorough debunking of right-wing claims that Democratic health care reform proposals would slash Medicare benefits for46 million American elderly:
Pence and Reichert suggested that support was the result of corruption inside the AARP and not based on the interests of its membership.
"What you've got here is a backroom deal," Pence said of reform measures expected to be introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this afternoon. "Democrats are protecting the salaries of the heads of groups like AARP while cutting Medicare"...
The GOP is using more than just rhetoric to go after the group. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) claims to have launched an investigation into AARP in his home state. Reichert says his "ongoing" investigation focuses on whether AARP should be classified as an insurance company because of its revenue from royalties the group gets from licensing its brand for insurance products.
Sounding the clarion call for conservatives is aging singer turned World Net Daily regular Pat Boone. Boone, who in recent months branded Barack Obama a "president without a country" who is "waterboarding America" over "socialistic health care and a host of other ultraliberal causes," is also the celebrity mouthpiece for the 60 Plus Association.
When Pat Boone isn't proposing the metaphorical gassing of "all manner of parasites, vermin, roaches, rats, worms and termites" of President Obama and his team in the White House, he's leading the charge for the self-proclaimed right-wing alternative to the AARP:
The 60 Plus Association is a non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors issues. 60 Plus has set ending the federal estate tax and saving Social Security for the young as its top priorities. 60 Plus is often viewed as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
Of course, the 60 Plus Association is non-partisan in much the same way that bricks float. As SourceWatch, Rachel Maddow and FireDogLake all documented, "60 Plus has been a front group for the pharmaceutical industry since its inception." As Greg Sargent detailed, Boone's group, led by president and long-time Bush supporter Jim Martin, in 2005 backed Social Security privatization. Now, the 60 Plus Association with $2 million in funding from Big Pharma is producing ads and distributing direct mail with fabricated health care reform horror stories designed to scare the bejesus out of America's seniors.
As Maddow and FDL related, 60 Plus is tightly integrated into the usual suspects of right-wing astro-turfing, including FreedomWorks, the Tea Party movement, Bonner & Associates and even Jack Abramoff. And virtually all of its political skullduggery is funded by its friends in pharmaceutical lobby:
In 2002, 60 Plus received 91% of its total revenue - $11 million dollars - from one undisclosed donor, which the Washington Post reported lined up perfectly with "an unrestricted educational grant" to 60 Plus from PhRMa, the drugmaker lobby group. Jim Martin, the 60 Plus President, has acknowledged in interviews that it received money from pharmaceuticals, saying "I wish it was more."
As it turns out, Pat Boone and the 60 Plus Association aren't the only ones doing the Republican Party's dirty work in trying to kill health care reform. The American Seniors Association (ASA) and former Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, another group with another D-List celebrity front man, is trying to do the same thing.
The ASA garnered the spotlight in August when CBS News highlighted the organization in a fawning segment titled, "Thousands Quit AARP over Health Care Reform." But while noting ASA's aspiration to be the "conservative alternative" to the AARP, CBS' Sharyl Attkisson did nothing to research either the group's background or its claims.
While parroting the ASA's claim that the Obama plan "calls for $313 billion dollars in Medicare cuts over ten years," CBS provided neither context nor fact-checking. As Politifact examined in detail, President Obama is proposing $177 billion in savings from the private Medicare Advantage program, which "costs taxpayers on average of 14 percent more than the traditional Medicare plan." As Marc Steinberg of Families USA noted, "The core benefits of Medicare won't change." Just as important, Obama has pledged to reduce the notorious - and financially devastating - "donut hole" in the Bush Medicare drug plan.
Which is why the AARP is not falling for the Republicans' scare tactics. The organization's vice president for social impact noted, "AARP has not endorsed any plan at this point." As CBS reported:
Yet the AARP's Cheryl Matheis couldn't find anything to quibble with, including the Medicare cuts which she says will not affect benefits.
Of course, the CBS story wasn't really about health care. Instead, it was about the reactionary free-market conservative agenda and Republican scorched earth opposition to Barack Obama at all costs.
A little digging into Stuart Barton's 60,000 member American Seniors Association would have made that clear. Founded in 2005 by Barton's father Jerry as the National Association for Senior Concerns (NASCON), the group targeted the "radical agenda" of the AARP. Topping its program is Social Security privatization, hard-line opposition to immigration reform, and an overhaul of Medicare, which Barton deemed "the most abused and wasteful of all federal programs that could be bankrupt even before Social Security." As its press page shows, the ASA is a right-wing talking point regurgitation machine:
"On page 425 of the bill, a person must go to counseling every five years to basically learn how to die," Barton says. "As I read this and hear about no preventative care, it dawned on me that Obama's plan is to let all these baby boomers die quicker so we don't have to care for them in old age."
As that laundry list makes clear, the American Seniors Association like the 60 Plus Association cares less about the needs of America's elderly and more about the agenda of the right-wing of the Republican Party.
"AARP is proud to endorse the Affordable Health Care for America Act. We urge members of the House to pass this critical bill this year so our healthcare system can work for all of us."
No doubt, Pat Boone and his reactionary backers won't be happy. It's only a question of time before he calls for the "tenting" of the AARP.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)