The defeat of the Balanced Budget Amendment at the hands of senior citizen organizations and their allies has Republicans reeling.Uncovering of the real intent of the amendment - to rip-off the Social Security Trust Fund to give tax breaks to the rich - was an important victory for the fight against the "Contract on America."
This is the second major victory for groups organized to protect the rights of older people and those who understand that they may become old one day. The first one came when the Kerry/Danforth Entitlement Commission proposal to increase the Social Security retirement age to 70 years was soundly rejected. The demagoguery used by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. John Danforth(R-Mo.) that their commission would save Social Security fell on deaf ears. When the same strategy was used by Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole and his Democratic counterpart and co-conspirator, Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, it failed to convince anyone.
The scorched earth policy that "destroys in the name of saving" is not new. Vietnam War protesters and pro-affirmative action activists are used to hearing how villages must be destroyed in order to save them. But, the right-wing is not done yet.
Richard Viguerie, the millionaire guru of the right wing, has setup three direct mail organizations to counter the activities of the Gray Panthers, the National Council of Senior Citizens (NCSC) and the moderate, but increasingly important, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Among the Viguerie-inspired groups are the Seniors Coalition, the United Seniors Association and 60/Plus.
The NCSC, with a membership that includes many retired union members, is, in some instances, the most important and powerful group. It often takes positions well to the left of the right-wing leadership of AFL-CIO head Lane Kirkland.
NCSC supported the single-payer health reform struggle and similar movements in the past, over the objections of Kirkland. The Gray Panthers are made up of community-based seniors who supported the Dellums National Health Service Bill and the single-payer movement.
AARP, while still under the control of the Prudential Insurance Company, has taken good positions, such as opposition to the balanced budget amendment. In the national health care debate its position was weaker becauseof the insurance carrier connection. Despite this, its membership often rose up to fight for good positions.
Before the 1994 Congressional debacle, the right-wing seniors groups didn't receive much attention, but now right-wing members of Congress are pointing to these groups to justify their anti-senior actions. The most dangerous is the Seniors Coalition, but given that they all rely on the computer-based mailings of Viguerie, each can send off hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail to support this or that demand.
The Seniors Coalition has made Medicare its particular target, calling it a "freight train" to be derailed. The invasion of Medicare by for-profit managed-care companies is just one example of their growing danger.
Medicare recipients are being deluged with direct mail and in-person solicitation by profiteers seeking to enlist them in their corporate programs. As was pointed out in an op ed in the Feb. 25 World, managed care in Medicare will mean severe limitations for services and encourage underutilization of medical care and service so that these companies can increase their profits.
In New York City, the Oxford Company is seeking to enroll Medicare recipients. We are attempting to develop a scorecard on these companies. At present, these for-profit companies are acting regionally, but soon they will be monopolized and will wield even greater power.
Please send in your own experiences. We need to know about these anti-senior groups and profit-seeking companies. Events are moving fast and with the White House and Congress fighting over many issues, national regulation toward the elimination of these profiteers is going by the wayside. You can make the difference.
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