Strassel: The Love Song of AARP and Obama

From the Wall Street Journal – By Kimberley A. Strassel –

Newly released emails reveal the ‘nonpartisan’ group’s stealthy White House alliance on health care –

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.

As early as July 2009, Mr. Sloane was sending the administration—”as promised”—his “message points” on Medicare. Ms. DeParle assured him “I think you will hear some of your lines tomorrow” in President Obama’s speech—which he did. Mr. Rother advised the White House on its outreach, discouraging Mr. Obama from addressing seniors since “he may not be the most effective messinger [sic] . . . at least to the McCain constituency.” Better to manage these folks, he counsels, through the “authoritative voices of doctors and nurses.”

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.”

Lobbying for Seniors, or for Obama?

The emails AARP didn’t want its members to read.

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.

July 23, 2009: AARP reported to the White House that 1,031 members called in against the proposed health-care changes; 77 called in support. July 28, 2009: 4,174 opposed; 36 in support. July 29, 2009: 2,656 opposed; 23 in support. Mr. Sloane told the White House that AARP lost 1,897 members in a single day “in disagreement over our position on health reform.” All the reports to Team Obama were accompanied by AARP’s request to keep the information “close,” apparently so word didn’t leak that seniors hate ObamaCare. And the ad blitz went on.

Was AARP sending these tracking reports to its outside board of directors—its governing body? Maybe not: AARP staff seemed to view the board as a problem. In June 2009, Ms. Super emailed Obama budget guy Keith Fontenot: The AARP board is meeting, she said, and we “need to get their buy-in on several proposals,” including the president’s Medicare cuts, which “as you might imagine, they are a bit concerned about.” Could he share ideas with her? “It would really help get them on Board.”

When Mr. Rother was asked in December 2009 by the White House to attend an event with Mr. Obama, he declined. “I am presenting to my Board on health reform” on the same day, he wrote. “I think you want me to keep my Board in line, so please understand my need to regret.”

AARP was, however, on 24-hour alert to do the White House’s political bidding. Typical is a March 2010 email exchange about Rep. Larry Kissell, a North Carolina Democrat who remained a “no” vote as ObamaCare neared its endgame. Labor boss Andy Stern emailed Mr. Messina—”Kissel [sic] a Problem”—and advised bringing in the AARP guns. Mr. Messina forwarded the note to Ms. LeaMond, with the word “Help.” “On it,” she quickly responded. Soon after: Does Mr. Messina want AARP to have its board chairman arrange a meeting, or just call the congressman “right away?” “Both?” Mr. Messina asked. “Will do,” she assured him. Rep. Kissell voted no.

In an interview, AARP spokesman Jim Dau and Legislative Policy Director David Certner noted that the lobby was committed to health-care reform long before Mr. Obama’s election, that it pushed for policy additions to the bill that were crucial for seniors, and that it did not endorse legislation until AARP’s priorities were met. They said that the board was kept informed and that AARP faced similar criticism when it worked with the GOP on a drug benefit in 2003.

“We get criticized, but we never take our eye off the ball when it comes to pursuing things that are good for our members,” says Mr. Dau. “We make no apologies for our advocacy.”

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.

In October 2009, Ms. Super expressed frustration that the Senate might strip more spending from the bill. She declared to colleagues: “I’m heading up to the House now where at least Democrats are Democrats (sort of).” Ms. Super is now working for Mr. Obama’s Health and Human Services Department.

In November 2009, Mr. Rother declined a White House request to have an AARP person take part in a roundtable. “I think we will try to keep a little space between us and the White House,” he explained, adding that AARP’s “polling” shows the organization is more “influential when we are seen as independent.” He wanted “to reinforce that positioning,” said the man working daily to pass ObamaCare, since “the larger issue is how to best serve the cause.” Mr. Rother has left AARP and now leads the liberal National Coalition on Health Care.

When the health-care reform bill passed the House in March 2010, Ms. LeaMond exuberantly emailed Mr. Messina: “This is the new AARP-WH/Hill—LeaMond/Messina relationship. . . . Seriously, a great victory for you and the President.”

But not one for America’s seniors, who had looked to AARP to oppose ObamaCare’s cuts and rationing. That’s worth remembering come the next AARP bulletin to seniors offering its “balanced” view on issues.

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Betty Grogg
10 years ago

As I said on another page I left AARP years ago, well before Obama came on the scene. There is a group out there , I think it’s Freedom Works, asking everyone to pray at 9pm every night for a new president. Romney isn’t perfect, but he is not a Socialist. I’ve read that socialism never works. When AMAC came along, I jumped on because I am so tired of the liberal media I also seitched to Fair and Balanced.

10 years ago

I am surprised that it took so long for most people to realize who the AARP is. I cancelled my membership years ago, I did not like their views. Does anyone remember they sided with Dems on taxing SS benefits? This is tax upon previously taxed money. I just joined AMAC after much thought, more in line with my views.

10 years ago

New member of one month. So very glad I joined and can bulk return all AARP mail back to them with message: Not in a million years!

10 years ago
Reply to  Kate

brand new member feels great aarp can go you know where!!!

AMAC Member Services
10 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Thank you Kate! We hope you enjoy your new membership with AMAC, the Conservative Alternative! Hope you enjoy the magazine and be sure to look into our many great benefits available only to AMAC members. Be sure to check your mailbox for our special Election Issue print publication by the end of October!

10 years ago

My wife will be turning 62 soon and we are being flooded with AARP insurance mailings. I write “I SUPPORT AMAC” on the back of the business reply envelope or card and mail it back to them at their expense.

10 years ago

Just joined and I will tell all of my friends.Every one should call and tell AARP you do not want them and why you left. I was looking for something to replace them.

10 years ago

On October 1st, I just got a SECOND mailing from rival AARP-about Hospital Indemnity Plan -does AMAC have a plan like this? Please AMAC-coulkd you e-mail me and let me know/ Thank you.

AMAC Member Services
10 years ago
Reply to  Cindy

Cindy, we’d be more than happy to try to help you. Feel free to give us a call on Monday, toll-free, at 1-888-262-2006. We look forward to serving you!

Eddie Parsons
10 years ago

I know there are growing pains and priority items come first, but as soon as you get enough notoriety it would be good to get chain such as Denny’s and Dunkin Donuts on board to give Seniors with AMAC cards discounts. This not only helps Seniors but also promotes AMAC as well and would be a good way to compete against AARP.

AMAC Member Services
10 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Parsons

Thank you for your feedback, Mr. Parsons. For the past six months we have been working on a project that will give AMAC members access to discounts from hundreds of thousands of national merchants, including Dunkin Donuts, as well as many local small businesses all across America. We’re excited to say that we’re getting closer to making this project a reality! We’ll be sure to notify all of our members when we are able to launch this exciting new benefit!

10 years ago

I have sent receiving the information from AARP for years and recently joined AMAC. On the last packet of information from AARP, I wrote across the reply to them that I am NOW A MEMBER of AMAC and not to send their junk mail to me anymore.
Senior citizens wake up; the AARP is self-serving and does not care about you. Money is their Goal as seen from the recent article from AMAC.
Keep up the good fight AMAC!

Bob Andretta
10 years ago

Thanks for starting AMAC, without it we would have no option to AARP.

Please keep us informed on your membership drive and how we, the so called silent majority, can help.

AMAC Member Services
10 years ago
Reply to  Bob Andretta

Almost 500,000 members and growing, and we will NOT be silent! So many concerned citizens understand how you feel, including AMAC’s founder, Dan Weber. We can’t thank you enough for your support!

Bob Spengler
10 years ago

I have always had my suspicions regarding AARP and who they really aliened with, this article convinces me to cancel my membership and join AMAC once I find a little more about them. It’s clear that AARP is in bed with Obama and his Obamacare program so-to-speak to feather their own nests with little or no regards for the seniors of our country who have worked all the lives and paid into a (along with their employers) a mandatory plan that was designed to allow them to retire with security and health benefits for the rest of their lives.

10 years ago

I cancelled my AARP membership in 2008 when this all started.

AMAC Member Services
10 years ago
Reply to  Jan

Thank you, Jan, for sticking with us over these past few years. We’ve experienced some growing pains and have learned a lot, and we truly appreciate you standing with us!

10 years ago

I cancelled AARP membership last year and joined AMAC. I will be glad when this election cycle is over. Can’t trust the media to give fair and balanced reporting. AMAC is breath of fresh air.

AMAC Member Services
10 years ago
Reply to  Mary

Thank you Mary!

Eric Anderson
10 years ago

Can someone send me AMAC Flyers that I can handout to my friends and co-workers? Is there an Out Reach Program?

Cynthia Blevins
10 years ago

Glad I joined Amac. Thanks to Its awesome on keeping us americans posted In all I think the healthcare needs revised and call Americare .

WN Gus
10 years ago

I too have cancelled my AARP membership and enrolled with AMAC.
I tell everyone that will listen that AARP is nothing more that a political arm of the Obama Administration. They lied to
us about what was in the health care bill from the beginning. And how it was going to directly benefit AARP.

@ Tom Barber.. Go to or call 1-888-262-2006

10 years ago

Ditto what Tom B. has to say. My husband prepays memberships for us. How can we cancel out? We have joined AMAC.

Tom Barber
10 years ago

This is why I withdrew my membership from AARP, and joined AMAC! I didn’t need any email evidence, either. It was clear to me, the way they were behaving, and the way they were resisting questions and protests from their own membership, that they were in the tank for Obama. No surprises here.

10 years ago
Reply to  Tom Barber

What is AMAC?

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