Our congressman, Rep. Tom Reed, is courting older voters by touting his support for renewing the Older Americans Act. No doubt, he’s aware of research showing that seniors turn out to vote at higher rates than those in other age groups.
The Older Americans Act is a wonderful piece of legislation. As the National Council on Aging puts it, “The Older Americans Act (OAA) funds critical services that keep older adults healthy and independent—services like meals, job training, senior centers, caregiver support, transportation, health promotion, benefits enrollment, and more.”
But before casting a vote for Reed, seniors should ask themselves whether Republicans in general, and Tom Reed in particular, are really friends of older Americans.
The two programs that have done the most to bring dignity and economic security to old age are Social Security and Medicare. Both are programs created and implemented by Democratic presidents — Franklin D. Roosevelt in the case of Social Security and Lyndon B. Johnson with respect to Medicare. President Johnson’s administration also gave us the Older Americans Act as part of his Great Society program.
Today, Republicans regard Social Security and Medicare as “entitlements” that should be cut. Voters who wish to see these programs sustained would be far wiser to vote for Democrat Martha Robertson than for Tom Reed. Martha points out that “Washington’s priorities are so backwards that currently Warren Buffet pays the same amount in Social Security taxes as many upper-middle income families. To me, it’s pretty simple – we can secure the future of Social Security and protect working families by asking billionaires to pay their fair share.” On Medicare, Martha has this to say: “Protecting Medicare is critical. Older Americans have paid for it all their working lives. I will fight to protect Medicare as we know it, to guarantee the health and well-being of our seniors who have earned it.”
As for the Older Americans Act, it’s far more likely to be renewed — and adequately funded — if Democrats regain control of the House in November. The legislation expired in 2011 and has been authorized since only by stopgap legislation. It never would have expired if Democrats controlled the House.
Seniors should ask themselves some other questions before voting for Reed. Which candidate, Robertson or Reed, is more likely to support programs that will provide opportunity and prosperity for our children and grandchildren? Which candidate is more likely to vote to protect the environment, strengthen our system of education at all levels, and assure that America has a 21st century infrastructure? Which candidate is more likely to vote to strengthen the social safety net, including the SNAP program and Medicaid, in case our children and grandchildren fall on hard times? The answer to these questions is obvious.
In any event, Reed making a mistake if he thinks he can persuade seniors to vote for him on the basis of his support for renewing the Older Americans Act. Recent research finds little evidence that seniors vote as a bloc. We are a diverse group, and we take a wide range of considerations into account before we decide how to cast our vote. We’re smarter than Reed thinks.