On Jan. 3, 2012, Iowa Republicans will be the first voters in the nation to choose who should be their party nominee for president. This will actually be the second event in the next two months of major consequence for Iowans. The other significant date is Nov. 23, when the congressional "supercommittee" is scheduled to release its recommendations to cut the deficit. Both events will play critical roles in the future of Medicare and Social Security. AARP is fighting against cuts to the Medicare and Social Security benefits that seniors and future retirees have earned through a lifetime of hard work. We believe our Washington leaders, in Congress and in the White House, should find ways to solve our nation's budget problems without making damaging cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits for today's seniors or future generations.
With the world's eyes on Iowans, AARP commissioned a survey to examine how Iowa Republican caucus-goers feel about potentially cutting Medicare and Social Security to reduce the deficit. AARP commissioned GS Strategy Group to conduct survey interviews between Oct. 17-18 with 400 Iowa likely Republican caucus goers (age 18-plus). In addition to surveying Iowa GOP likely caucus-goers, identical surveys were conducted for AARP in January's other early nominating states that will be critical in determining the next Republican Presidential nominee: New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
Our Iowa-specific survey results showing that by nearly 3 to 1, (64.5 percent for Social Security, 67.3 percent for Medicare), likely Republican Caucus-goers overwhelmingly oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits to reduce the deficit. By strong majorities, these Iowans say Social Security benefits are or will be important to their monthly income in retirement (86 percent) and that the strength and solvency of Medicare is essential to seniors' health care security in retirement (87 percent).
Opposition to these benefit cuts among Republicans across all ages confirms what AARP has been hearing from Iowans throughout our campaign to protect Social Security and Medicare: Whether Republican, Democrat, independent or Tea Party supporter, Iowa voters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to these programs.
AARP's GOP Iowa Caucus Survey highlights the major disconnect between the Washington establishment and likely Republican voters in Iowa who will be critical in determining the next Republican presidential nominee. While Washington talks about making a deal to cut Social Security and Medicare to meet budget targets, voters in Iowa's first in the nation caucuses say they oppose cuts to the benefits they earned and need.
One specific example of a benefit cut that would harm current and future retirees is a proposal to change the formula used to calculate the Social Security cost of living adjustment - COLA. This idea would result in COLA increases being smaller and occurring less often.
Social Security benefits account for more than half of the income of 56.5 percent of Iowa's Social Security beneficiaries, and more than 1 in 5 of Iowa's Social Security beneficiaries depend on Social Security for nearly all of their income. Half of Americans 65 and older have annual incomes below $18,500, and many older Americans have experienced recent and significant losses in retirement savings, pensions, and home values. Today, every dollar of the average Social Security benefit of about $14,000 is absolutely critical to the typical beneficiary. Reducing Social Security benefits by moving to a chained consumer price index (CCPI) to reduce the deficit - which is estimated to take $112 billion out of the pockets of Social Security beneficiaries in the next 10 years alone - is inappropriate and unwarranted.
Adopting a chained consumer price index to calculate Social Security cost of living adjustments is not a small benefit change - it will compound benefit reductions dramatically over time, resulting in an annual benefit that is nearly $1,000 (2011 dollars) lower by the time a beneficiary reaches age 85. As a result, the older and poorer a beneficiary becomes, the larger the benefit cut. In addition, the current index that is used to calculate the Social Security COLA measures the cost of a market basket of items the average American worker purchases each month - an index that does not include the purchasing patterns of a single retiree. As a result, the COLA is currently based on an index that already under-reports the rapidly increasing costs disproportionately experienced by seniors, and as such results in a lower than warranted COLA.
Making changes to the formula to actually decrease Social Security COLA's is a benefit cut for the purpose of reducing the deficit at a time when Iowans and Americans are relying more than ever on these earned benefits. AARP opposes such a cut.
AARP welcomes a dialogue and policy debate on how to make the necessary changes to strengthen Social Security and Medicare and protect current and future beneficiaries. However, a behind-closed-doors debt cutting supercommittee is precisely the wrong place to consider the modest changes needed. A discussion on these programs should unfold thoughtfully in the context of health and retirement security, not as a desperate attempt to beat the clock in front of the supercommittee.
Presidential hopefuls would be wise to pay attention to what GOP voters believe. Until politicians in Washington start looking at real people - not just budget numbers - and how changes impact health and retirement security, AARP is going to keep fighting against cuts to the Medicare and Social Security benefits that seniors and future retirees have earned through a lifetime of hard work.
Read the full survey reports from Iowa and the other states at www.aarp.org/YouEarnedIt.
Tony Vola is volunteer state president of AARP in Iowa, representing more than 375,000 members and Iowans age 50 and up. A retired United State Air Force lieutenant colonel, Vola, like the majority of AARP members, is not retired. He and his wife, Marcia, are co-owners of a home health care company in Des Moines that provides services to older Iowans and people with disabilities to remain independent in their homes.