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Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel: The Love Song of AARP and Obama

Sep 21, 2012

When Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan address the AARP on Friday, good manners will no doubt keep them from asking this question: How can that lobby claim to speak for American seniors given its partisan role in passing ObamaCare?

Thanks to just-released emails from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we now know that AARP worked through 2009-10 as an extension of a Democratic White House, toiling daily to pass a health bill that slashes $716 billion from Medicare, strips seniors of choice, and sets the stage for rationing. We know that despite AARP's awareness that its seniors overwhelmingly opposed the bill, the "nonpartisan membership organization" chose to serve the president's agenda.

The 71 pages of emails show an AARP management taking orders from the White House, scripting the president's talking points, working to keep its board "in line," and pledging fealty to "the cause." Seniors deserve to know all this, as AARP seeks to present itself as neutral in this presidential election.

The emails overall show an AARP leadership—Policy Chief John Rother, Health Policy Director Nora Super, Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond, Senior Vice President David Sloane—that from the start worked to pass ObamaCare, before crucial details pertaining to seniors had been addressed. This crew was in constant contact with Mr. Obama's top aides, in particular Nancy-Ann DeParle and Jim Messina…

…AARP had long lambasted cuts in fees to Medicare doctors because reduced payments would mean fewer doctors who accept patients with the insurance. Yet in its campaign for ObamaCare, it argued the money the health law strips from Medicare—by imposing price controls on hospitals—would improve "care." When the organization tried to sell the line to its own people, it didn't go well. Ms. Super told Obama officials in June 2009: "It was actually a heavy lift for us to convince many at AARP that Medicare 'savings' (which they read as cuts) is not bad for beneficiaries." Note the "savings" quote marks.

Even in November 2009, as the ObamaCare debate progressed, Ms. LeaMond worried that the Medicare spin wasn't working against public criticism of the bill. She emailed Mr. Messina and Ms. DeParle that she was "seized" with "concerns about extended coherent, strong messaging by Republicans on the Medicare savings." To pull off the legislation, she mused, "we"—the White House and AARP—will need a "concerted strategy."

In August 2009, AARP had already unveiled a national advertising blitz for ObamaCare, to ensure that "every member of Congress knows the 50-plus community wants action to fix what's wrong with healthcare." The group made this claim despite weeks of daily tracking showing its members in revolt against the president's plan…

…AARP's ardent efforts on behalf of ObamaCare bear a resemblance to the work of the drug and health industry in 2009—with one significant difference. Those industries' backroom dealing was motivated by financial self-interest. What motivated AARP, given that its membership of 37 million people 50 years old and older was clearly opposed to ObamaCare, since they recognized that it would hurt them? The answer appears to be: pure ideology… 

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