A powerful lobbying group for older Americans Friday said its position on Social Security benefits has not changed following a newspaper story that said the group was open to accepting benefit cuts.
A story in Friday's Wall Street Journal said the AARP, which represents millions of people over the age of 50, had dropped its long-standing opposition to cutting Social Security benefits as lawmakers look to overhaul the retirement system and other so-called entitlement programs.
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"The story suggests there has been some change in the association's position and that is simply not the case," AARP's legislative policy director David Certner said in an interview. "There has been no change in the AARP's position."
The group also issued a statement from chief executive Barry Rand saying AARP's position on Social Security had not changed. AARP says it has 37 million members.
Certner said the AARP has long been open to discussing Social Security benefits as part of an effort to shore up the retirement program's finances as baby boomers retire and begin to draw benefits.
"If you go back and look at our statements over the years, our position has not been changed about being willing to discuss different kinds of packages to strengthen Social Security for the long-term," Certner said.
Certner admitted that the timing of the Wall Street Journal story, which was based on interviews with a senior AARP policy executive, could not have been worse. The group has been pushing to have the retirement program taken off the table in high-level negotiations over reducing U.S. deficits.
The talks, led by Vice President Joseph Biden, aim to reach an agreement that would clear the way for an increase in the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling.
"We do not believe Social Security should be part of this debate," Certner said.
The Wall Street Story set off a firestorm of criticism from liberal groups who are fighting any cuts to Social Security benefits as lawmakers look to reduce deficits and long-term debt.
"This is extremely damaging to the future of Social Security," Eric Kingson of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare said in a telephone conference.
"The President supports measures to strengthen Social Security, but he does not support anything that would slash benefits for future generations," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. (Reporting by Donna Smith, Andy Sullivan and Alister Bull; Editing by Anthony Boadle)