September 09, 2011

On First Day “Super Committee” Meets, 500 Alliance Members Come to Capitol Hill

On Thursday, 500 seniors met with their Members of Congress and Senators and voiced their concerns about Social Security, Medicare, and other issues close to their heart. The activists came to Capitol Hill as part of the Alliance’s Legislative Conference, reaching more than 200 offices with the message, “Don’t balance the budget on the backs of seniors!”  The appointments came on the exact same day as the first meeting of the Congressional “Super Committee” that is deciding how to tackle the nation’s deficit. This year’s Alliance conference – themed Celebrating Our Past, Fighting for Your Future, and commemorating the ten-year anniversary of the Alliance – is taking place Tuesday through today. “Congress needs to know that we are keeping a close eye on them. That is why we are here this week,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

At their appointments, Alliance members left behind a letter that summed up many of the points they had made during their meetings: that Social Security has not caused the deficit and should not be part of debt reduction strategies; that privatizing Medicare into a voucher program will do nothing to reduce the cost of health care, but, instead, shift huge medical costs onto seniors; and that raising the Medicare eligibility age is especially cruel, since older Americans face the most difficulty in finding insurance due to chronic health conditions.

Congratulations to This Year’s Award Recipients

On Thursday, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee accepted the Leadership Award, and a video tribute to him was shown at the banquet dinner. Al Hamai, President of the Hawaii Alliance, andTony Fransetta, President of the Florida Alliance, each received the President’s Award. Mr. Hamai spoke fondly of his AFSCME roots and thanked those who have helped him along the way, including the Hawaii Alliance board. Mr. Fransetta, also thanking his board and others, cited the need to protect Social Security and Medicare for his children and for future generations. To rousing applause, Bertha Carlton, Deputy Director of Membership for the Alliance, was also recognized with the President’s Award for her more than three decades working on behalf of seniors.

On Friday, U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California received the Alliance’s Leadership Award before speaking. Earlier in the week, Judy Cato, Executive Vice President of the Alliance, introduced the Community Advocacy Network scholarship award winners.

Speakers Lend Their Knowledge – and other Talents As Well!

President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO John J. Sweeney, Ms. Easterling, Alliance President Emeritus George J. Kourpias, Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle, and Alliance Secretary-Treasurer Ruben Burks all spoke during the opening session on Tuesday. “What worries me the most is that politicians who have never liked Social Security and Medicare are trying to use our budget problems as a convenient excuse to get rid of programs they never liked in the first place,” said Mr. Burks during his remarks.

On Wednesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka fired up the crowd. Robert Adler, Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, offered useful household tips and brought attention to fall prevention – which will be spotlighted on September 23, the first day of fall. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry rounded out a day of excellent speakers.

On Thursday, Grammy Award-winning singer and social activist Judy Collins sprinkled some a cappella bars from her biggest hits – and some humor – into a message that included the importance of mental health care funding. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont addressed the national outrage that millionaires and billionaires, many benefiting from corporate tax loopholes and overseas accounts, are not asked to pay more to strengthen Social Security. DNC Chair andRep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida spoke of surviving breast cancer and of knowing first-hand the benefits of health care reform that eliminates pre-existing conditions.   Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius thanked Alliance members for their role in passing the Affordable Health Care Act.  Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona also addressed the attendees before they departed for Lobby Day.

NAACP’s Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy Hilary Shelton delivered the keynote address at the Thursday banquet.

On Friday, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), a member of the “Super Committee” addressing the national debt, stressed that seniors had paid into Social Security, and it would be wrong to now take it away. AFT President Randi Weingarten acknowledged one of the audience members – her Social Studies teacher back when she was a student: Alliance regional board member Bill Cea. Ms. Weingarten also suggested that labor history be taught more in schools.

Several other speakers, including Eric Kingson and Nancy Altman from the group Social Security Works, Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corporation (EHDOC) Executive Director Steve Protulis, Executive Director of the DCCC Robby Mook, and Communications Director of the DSCC Matt Canter brought a great deal of knowledge and enormous energy to the week’s events.

Additional Conference Activities: Workshops, Facebook, and More!

The Alliance offered thirteen different workshops throughout the conference, including Social Security: Barbarians Still at the Gates and Medicare: What’s New.  Attendees voted to make creating a fair tax system and helping retirees protect their pensions two of the top issues to focus on next. Several seniors took advantage of the opportunity to set up new Facebook accounts while at the conference. “Thank you to all of our presenters, and also to the attendees who made the conference so enriching,” said Mr. Coyle. For photos from Day One of the conference, go to Additional photos are at

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