But the AARP recognized what the hearings were really about. At a meeting with AARP’s board and staff, Simpson told them “I want you to know that the intensity of my investigation will be directly related to the intensity of your fight on Medicare.” In an interview then, AARP’s chief lobbyist John Rother told me: “Many people on the right wing realized that AARP was the force to contend with. They realized they wouldn’t get anywhere unless they dealt with us as an institution.”
Apparently they have. As former AARP CEO Bill Novelli told The Fiscal Times, “AARP always tried to take a rational approach. They believe you have to work both sides of the equation. Everything has to be on the table.”
Given that Simpson and others threatened AARP’s very existence so directly, it’s hardly surprising the group did not call for his resignation a few weeks ago. Perhaps they’re afraid that if they play hardball with Simpson, Simpson and others will play hardball with them. Nor is it surprising that Novelli, in his new role as a Georgetown University professor, has joined the Concord Coalition’s Bixby, Peterson Foundation CEO David Walker, and others on a road show this fall billed as a “Fiscal Solutions Tour.”
Nor is it curious that Rother just a few weeks ago told Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal that acting sooner allows for changes to be made gradually, and will reassure younger workers that the program will be there for them. Meckler reported that Rother dismissed those who said they can never support benefit cuts. Shortly after the Journal story appeared, AARP sent out a backpedaling statement from Rother with a headline “AARP Reaffirms Strong Opposition to Cutting Social Security Benefits to Reduce a Deficit It Did Not Cause.” No one has really said it did. Now how’s that for fence-sitting?
In reporting this story, context means everything, as every journalist should know.