County seniors sound off on nation's debt

Poll finds most favor closing loopholes, preserving programs

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Nearly three-fourths of Clark County seniors prefer either closing corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes for wealthy Americans over cutting Social Security and Medicare as a means to reduce the country’s burgeoning debt, according to an unscientific poll conducted Thursday at an AARP event in Vancouver.

Reductions to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have dominated congressional discussion on how to rein in debt and whether to increase the nation’s $14.2 trillion debt ceiling. Congress must raise the ceiling by Aug. 2 to keep the government from going into default.

AARP Washington has held seven regional community meetings and one statewide teleconference that drew about 17,000 people on June 28 to discuss Medicare and Social Security. The organization used the meetings to provide information, gauge seniors’ stances on hot-button congressional proposals and urge them to contact their representatives to make their opinions known on issues such as vouchers for Medicare and scaling back on Social Security benefits.

More than 200 seniors turned out at Thursday’s event at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay. They were polled electronically on their opinions on various proposals, chiefly how they would seek to reduce the nation’s debt. The questions came amid elevated anxiety over news on Tuesday that Social Security checks might not be issued if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling in time.

“The problem with the debt is two wars and two tax cuts (not Social Security and Medicare),” said Battle Ground resident Dave Rowe. “Little people have to pay for it while corporations are making a profit.”

Asked to choose one out of five possibilities, about 45 percent favored closing corporate tax loopholes. Raising taxes for wealthy Americans was second choice with 28 percent of votes. About 17 percent preferred taking steps to reduce health care cost inflation, such as making medical records more accessible between medical providers so that patients aren’t subject to redundant tests. Ten percent thought the federal government should shift the cost of long-term care to the states, while 1 percent supported cutting Social Security and Medicaid. All percentages were rounded off.

“Social Security should not be touched,” said Vancouver resident Joan Pesheck. “That was put in a trust fund. (Congress) has been taking money out of that trust fund, and that’s not right.”

AARP Washington spokesman Jason Erskine said the polling results aren’t scientific, but results were similar across the board at the seven regional meetings and one state meeting.

“It is an interesting snapshot of the room and probably is pretty representative,” Erskine said.

“The bottom line we are hearing is, don’t cut Social Security and Medicare to take care of the deficit,” he said.

About 1 million people in the state receive Social Security. For one in five of them, the benefit accounts for 90 percent of their total income, said Andy Landis, a Seattle-based consultant on Social Security and retirement planning who spoke at Thursday’s event. About 30 percent of seniors stay out of poverty as a result of the benefit, Landis said.

About 94 percent of Vancouver respondents Thursday said their financial security includes Social Security.

AARP Washington Director Doug Shadel and Volunteer State President John Barnett met with a total of 180 lawmakers in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to urge them to protect the programs. One challenge they faced during the visits was a lack of concrete proposals for solutions in Congress.

“There are no tangible proposals,” Shadel said. “It’s pretty fluid right now.”

Local representatives have a mixed record on proposed cuts to the programs.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, in April voted for a budget proposal by Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would have significantly reduced Medicare and Medicaid. U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington voted against the same proposal the following month.

Representatives from all three lawmakers’ offices who attended the AARP event Thursday stated the lawmakers would seek to protect Social Security.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://www.twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://www.facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com