Title:  Political Action 2024: Supporting Candidates Who Support Seniors
Guest:  Luke Warren, PAC Director, NCPSSM
Release Date:  2/8/24


Announcer:  It’s You Earned This, the Social Security and Medicare podcast, brought to you by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and now your host, Walter Gottlieb.

HOST:  Thank you, old time radio announcer. I am Walter. And today we’re going to talk politics and the 2024 election cycle. And we here at the National Committee not only have a 501(c)(4) advocacy group, but we also have a separate political action committee or PAC, that endorses candidates who champion Social Security and Medicare and other vital issues for seniors. Now needless to say, 2024 is a crucial election cycle between two very different agendas regarding seniors earned benefits.

And our PAC is very busy engaging with candidates who we truly believe are champions for older Americans. And here to tell us where things stand with our political activities as of February 2024 is our deputy political director who manages the political action committee here at NCPSSM, Mr. Luke Warren. Hello.

GUEST:  Hi, how you doing?

HOST:  All right. So, Luke, you have been here at the National Committee for six years now. So you’ve been through like three election cycles, must have been a pretty wild ride, right?

HOST:  Yes, it has been. Coming in early in the Trump administration and then from all the activism that spurred from there to then the COVID disruptions and obviously the political activity that we were doing took a different turn as we had to figure out campaigning and organizing during that time to, you know, now getting back to normal in terms of, you know, our political work. So, yeah, it has been a very eventful couple of years.

HOST:  If there is any such thing as normal these days in politics. So, our political action committee, which you manage, just endorsed Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for U.S. Senate down in Florida. And of course, she’s taking on Senator Rick Scott, who we don’t care for very much. And our CEO, Max Richtman, was down in North Miami yesterday at a campaign event of hers. Tell us a little bit more about that.

GUEST:  Sure. Well first, I will say that we have been big supporters of Debbie for years. We endorsed her in 2018 when she first ran for Congress and she flipped a red seat that year. You know, she came to our office and met with us and did our endorsement process. And, you know, we know that she’s very strong on our issues. So we would be happy to endorse her anyway. But particularly given that she’s running against Rick Scott, who is one of the most egregious members of Congress when it comes to our issues, this is definitely a race that we have on our radar.

HOST:  He said that little thing about sunsetting Social Security and Medicare every five years, which he proposed in 2022, I think, and then sort of walked back. But still.

GUEST:  Yes, he did. He tried to walk it back after he got a lot of blowback.

HOST:  Yeah.

GUEST:  You know, it was funny. He was actually the head of the Republican committee to elect senators at the time. And he kind of went off and proposed this plan on his own. And then immediately all the candidates running for Senate got really mad at him for it. Understandably so. So he tried to walk it back. But we know where his intentions are. In addition to the zero percent voting record, he got less Congress on our scorecard of, you know, votes.

HOST:  Zero percent! That’s like an F-minus, minus. So Luke, why is this an existential election, obviously not only for democracy, but for Social Security and Medicare? Democrats have proposed to expand and strengthen these programs, while Republicans like Rick Scott seem to want to cut, cut, cut and privatize. Luke, how does our political action committee, our PAC, go about choosing candidates to endorse? What are we looking for in a candidate? How do we decide who to approach and who to support?

GUEST:  Sure. That’s a great question. I guess there’s two answers to that. One is for the incumbents. We have their scorecard, as I mentioned earlier, which we can just look and see. And we’ll see, okay, this person earned a 100% for voting for our issues. So that’s an easy one to get behind. Or alternatively, this person earned a 0%, which is someone we’ll get behind their challenger. So for the non- incumbents, that is a bit more interesting. We like to sit down and have a conversation with them and just really kind of gauge their interest in seniors’ issues.

You know, oftentimes candidates pay lip service, and it just seems like you can kind of get a sense whether they just feel like they’re checking the boxes. But the candidates that we really like are ones who engage with the policy, who want to learn about our issues. You know, we don’t expect every candidate coming in to be a master about retirement security policy.

HOST:  Right.

GUEST:  There’s a whole world of very minute policy issues that people need to, you know, get acquainted with when you’re running for office. So part of it is just a willingness to engage with us and, you know, engage with our constituents about their concerns.

HOST:  And when we do endorse a candidate, sometimes our president, Max Richtman, will go to an event and present them with a pair of red NCPSSM boxing gloves.

GUEST:  That’s right. That has been a tradition from the National Committee for years, and it represents that they will stand up and fight for seniors — and it’s something that the candidates love because it makes a good photo op.

HOST:  It means they’re the Joe Lewis for seniors’ issues, right,

GUEST:  Exactly, yeah, yeah.

HOST:  Luke, usually our PAC sticks to congressional races, but occasionally we will endorse candidates for other offices, statewide offices, as opposed to federal ones, and I remember our endorsement last year of Judge Janet Protasiewicz for Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Why do we sometimes venture into state races like that?

GUEST:  Yeah, that’s a great question and I think the answer in part goes back to what we were discussing before in terms of candidates with a unique background in these issues. For the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, the conservative challenger had a history of making disparaging remarks about Social Security, so that was partly a motivator for us, as well as the outside impact that the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays on federal issues.

HOST: And, of course, Judge Protasiewicz won in a convincing victory and changed the balance of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court from conservative to liberal. So I think we like to get involved in pivotal races like that, especially on the federal level. Right? Like if we…

GUEST:  Yes, absolutely. And you know other examples I can think of were races where Medicaid expansion was on the ballot. If you recall, after the Supreme Court partially struck down parts of the Affordable Care Act, whether or not to expand Medicaid to their populations became a state decision. So you know, that’s something that the governors have a lot of impact on. So we will occasionally endorse in those races as well.

HOST:  And real quick, what are some of the marquee races we’ve already endorsed in? It’s only February 2024, as of this taping, but give us a quick rundown.

GUEST:  Sure, well, as you mentioned, there was the Florida Senate race.

HOST: Right.

GUEST: There’s also Tim Kaine, who’s been a good friend of ours, running in Virginia…

HOST: For re-election as US senator.

GUEST: Yes, yes, for in the Virginia Senate race. We’ve endorsed him last month and we look forward to working with him more. There is also on the House side. We’ve endorsed Mike Levin in California and he has been a very strong champion of our issues and we have a good, long-standing relationship with his office. And we have also endorsed Tom Suozzi in the George Santos special election. He is someone who has been strong on our issues and also particularly strong on home health issues, and so you know that election will be coming up soon and that was another one we’ve been involved in.

HOST:  And many more endorsements to come, right? It’s only February.

GUEST: Yes, I have been liaising with the campaigns, for you know all the top Senate candidates and have been in the process of interviewing a lot of the challengers on the House side, and we will be rolling out endorsements as the election gets near.

HOST: Looking forward to that and I’m looking forward — I always have fun meeting these candidates. They’re very impressive. Luke, seniors are one of the most reliable voting blocks. We know that in terms of actually getting to the polls or mailing in a ballot, but seniors have not always voted in their own interest. You see that changing over the past few cycles, or what’s your perception?

GUEST:  Yes, and it is interesting, and you know, voting is a very complex, kind of nuanced thing and there are many layers. But in terms of voting on Social Security and Medicare, we have seen the senior vote go in the opposite direction, voting against their interest. As you said, we’ve seen that narrow in recent elections. You know, in 2020, Trump won the senior vote by 5%. 2016, he won it by 8%.

HOST: Okay.

GUEST: In 2012, Mitt Romney won the senior vote by 12%.

HOST: Interesting.

GUEST:  So, and you know, the other thing that’s interesting about the voting patterns is that they’re not static. So part of that could be that you know, younger people are becoming seniors.

HOST: Uh huh, sure.

GUEST: Every day, so.

HOST: I’m one of them, yeah, well, not quite yet.

GUEST:  So you know, the people who were in their 50’s in 2012 are now going to be in their 60’s in 2024. So you know, you’ve got kind of potentially more liberal leaning people getting older every single day as well, as also, I think part of it is just the advocacy has become more effective around these issues. I think you know we’re doing our job if, if that margin is narrowing and people are electing more champions of our issues.

HOST:  We sure as hell are trying, and on the flip side, of course, you have younger voters who are not necessarily as great about actually showing up to the polls in November. But we’re concerned about younger voters A) because the political right has been trying to for communicate to them that Social Security is a raw deal for young people, which is not true, and we did a whole other episode about that previously, which you can listen to. In a recent Gallup poll, Luke, about 66% of respondents who were over 50 years old expect to receive Social Security, but younger people were less confident that they would ever receive benefits from Social Security. The poll found that millennials in particular tend to be less optimistic about ever seeing a Social Security check than members even of Generation Z. So, you are a member of the millennial cohort, right?

GUEST:  Yes.

HOST:  Although you know so much more about it than the civilians, right? But still, do you think that it’s still a problem that millennials and other young adults believe that Social Security won’t be there for them, or as Max Richtman, our president, likes to say, that they think they’re more likely to see a UFO than a Social Security check?

GUEST: Yes, and I do think it is a problem, because I think any kind of distrust and misinformation that poisons people’s perceptions of these programs kind of builds the runway to cut these programs. So, a few interesting findings is that while millennials overall are not optimistic about getting their Social Security benefits, I also think they’re not optimistic about anything. I think that they think that global warming is going to get us all.

HOST:  So, you’re saying that your generation, the millennials, maybe we should rename them Generation P for pessimistic?

GUEST:  Yeah, maybe.

HOST:  So, we like to remind millennials especially that they not only can look forward to getting Social Security when they retire, and millennials are on average on track to get a million dollars in lifetime retirement benefits. That’s more than seniors today get. But also, a 27-year-old young adult with a spouse and two children has $2 million worth of life and disability insurance from Social Security already. Do young people realize that?

GUEST:  No, I don’t think they do. When people hear Social Security, I think that they immediately just assume retirement.

HOST:  Elderly.

GUEST:  Exactly. And that’s part of the work that we do at the National Committee to try to educate people on these programs.

HOST:  That’s right. And we did a series of town halls with AARP in 2023, maybe doing more of this kind of public education in 2024. When you first started working here six years ago, you struck me as a particularly knowledgeable guy about politics and history. Did the politics bug bite you at an early age? How did you get so interested in politics? I bet you were like 10 and following the 2000 Bush v. Gore dispute.

GUEST:  That’s a very polite way of calling me a nerd. Thank you.

HOST:  You’re welcome. It’s not an insult.

GUEST:  So, I think it’s actually kind of funny. I graduated high school in 2009, so right when Obama was just inaugurated. And I got interested watching the campaign to try to pass the Affordable Care Act and really seeing the Tea Party kind of spawn out of that. And I just remember looking at it so confused and just thinking to myself, why are these people so upset about trying to get health care?

HOST:  Right. 2008, that was the election of hope. And 2010 was cynicism and Tea Party and Freedom Caucus.

GUEST:  Yeah. So, from there, I kind of got interested in both politics and also particularly health care policy and kind of the programs in that basket.

HOST:  Well, we’re so glad that you do have that passion and that you do what you do here so well. So, I look forward to working with you the rest of this 2024 cycle. And I wanted to ask, how do people find our legislative scorecard, which we mentioned several times? How do they find that so they can assess how their member of Congress is ranked by us or rated by us?

GUEST:  Oh, sure. It is on our website.

HOST:  ncpssm.org.

GUEST:  Slash scorecard.

HOST:  OK, Luke, well, thank you so much for joining us.

GUEST:  Yes. Thank you. It was a lot of fun.

HOST:  Good.  And we’ll have you on from time to time during 2024 to keep us up to date on this very important election cycle.

I’m Walter Gottlieb and our sound engineer is Shahab Shokouhi. Our editor is Simon Laslo-Janssen. And we’ll talk next week. And remember, you earned this!