SEATTLE - Congressional leaders are saying they're prepared to stay on the job until Christmas Eve if necessary to hammer out a budget deal.
The lack of agreement on what should be part of that deal is making folks in their 50s and beyond a little nervous. AARP Washington says almost 800,000 seniors in the state receive Social Security, and AARP State President John Barnett says it's keeping almost one in three out of poverty.
"In Washington State, for example, the average annual benefit for Social Security is only $14,600 a year. So, you know, how can you take much of a hit on that, particularly if you don't have any pension income to go along with it, or other savings?"
And he says the 830,000 Washingtonians on Medicare still pay an average of $4,000 a year out-of-pocket for their medical costs. He points out that seniors hit hard by the recession don't have many years to work and recoup their losses.
Barnett says one thing he resents in the budget debate is the frequent references to Social Security and Medicare as "entitlements."
"We call them 'earned benefits,' because we paid into those two systems all our working life. But obviously, we want to be sure that the programs are fixed so that these two very valuable benefits for paid-in seniors are available, when people retire."
Nationally, AARP says about 5 million people responded to its campaign called "You've Earned a Say," and views from every state about how to fix Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have been shared with their senators and representatives. Barnett hopes they got the message that major changes will not be welcome.
"I think they would be foolish to ignore us. Now, that isn't to say that we're going to get everything we want - but I do think the 50-plus population in America can't be discounted."
Some proposals being tossed around in Congress include raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67, making workers pay Social Security taxes on more of their income and changing the way cost-of-living adjustments are calculated.