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I'm a Massachusetts at-large delegate for the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, a once-every-ten-years event that (in theory) has major national, state, and local policy implications for our aging nation.  The reason I say "in theory" is that this decade's WHCoA has more in common with a national political convention than a policy conference; the delegates have absolutely no control of the agenda.  We get up-or-down votes on 73 resolutions, and have to vote "yes" on at least 30 or our votes don't count.

The most interesting thing about the conference may be what isn't being discussed -- which includes social security, and access to elder services for LGBT and other minorities.  

The scuttlebutt before the conference was that the Bush administration wanted to use the conference to promote social security "reform" (read privatization), and when it became clear that said "reform" wasn't happening, they tried to kill the conference all together, and failing that, to marginalize it.  That is why the conference is happening during the congressional recess, when it is all but guaranteed that most reps will be out of town.  And the WHCoA should be a huge deal -- it happens once every 10 years, and this is the decade when the boomers will start retiring -- but you probably won't hear a peep out of the MSM. (Or maybe you will -- keep reading.)

As a delegate, my only officially sanctioned input is to vote "yes" for 30 to 50 pre-written resolutions, with no opportunity to add, delete, modify, or otherwise effect the resolutions in any way.  Once the top 50 are selected, I get to contribute thoughts on implementation in brainstorming sessions.

The kicker is that the vast majority of resolutions are so bland as to be completely no-brainers, and the focus of the conference is on exercise and health living.  Exercise and healthy living are great ideas, but not national policy issues.  Improving access to care, addressing inherent discrimination in federal programs, and taking seriously the logistics and costs of our aging population are worthy policy issues.  These are being given short shrift.

I spent much of my day with the "Diversity in Aging Coalition" folks, who take seriously LGBT and other minority issues in elder care.  Imagine your life partner dying in a alone in a hospital bed while you are kept at a nursing station because you are gay.  Imagine being unable to make medical decisions for your partner because the hospital and state won't recognize your union. Imagine loosing the home you shared because Medicaid doesn't consider you married -- even in Massachusetts where we have state same-sex marriage. (The federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law under Clinton, ensures this.)  Imagine being terrified of assisted living -- not just for all of the usual reasons, but also because you will be helpless and dependent on people who may not approve of your lifestyle, who may try to "fix" you.  This is the reality for many LGBT seniors today.

Everyone knows that the Bush administration assault on Social Security and Medicare has been an abject failure -- so far.  However, it is too soon to declare victory.  The assault is still on and the WHCoA 2005 proves it.  Many delegates just assume that we've won this one, but unless we keep the pressure on Congress until this administration is out of office we could still loose.  The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is a great organization that is working to do just that.

The real meta-problem is the lack of delegate input into the agenda-setting process.  Most all of the delegates I've met are savvy, involved people with a lot of insight and a lot of compassion.  We could write a kick-ass agenda for this conference if they let us.  There are some petitions circulating to try to force delegate agenda items into the program -- we'll see where that goes.  Look for a ruckus on the floor sometime tomorrow, and some press conferences to follow.

Originally posted to rdevaul on Sun Dec 11, 2005 at 07:15 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What was not discussed (none)
    that you want on that agenda? Maybe you need a new diary on just this topic?

    unbossed investigative blogging

    by shirah on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 05:18:58 AM PST

    •  other items on the agenda (none)
      Access to existing services for LGBT is one issue that is totally unaddressed by the current agenda.

      Another huge unaddressed issue is the fiscaly irresponsible funding structure for the government.  There isn't much point in talking about Medicare or even Social Security solvency when the GAO projects that the US government itself will be in default in thirty years or so.

      Is this an aging issue?  Damn straight it is.  We need tax increases and restructuring of our nations finances to ensure that when my generation retires (I'm 34) that we will have a solvent government, let alone Medicare and Social Security.

  •  Controlling the WHCOA agenda (none)
    Note the WHCOA process ...

    No amendments allowed.

    Delegate notebooks with the draft resolutions (to be voted on) were sent very late. Was this mere incompetence or another attempt by the Administration to control the agenda?

    What else?

    •  agenda control (none)
      This is a very structured event.  It is also a comparitively small event, with relatively few delegates (only 1200 voting delegates, as compared to 2000 or 2500 at previous WHCoAs).  There has been little or no MSM coverage that I've seen, though that may change since voting is finishing up today.

      The agenda/resolution booklets were mailed with less than one week to the event -- this allowed for very little pre-event campaigning for specific resolutions among delegates.

      And did I mention that delegates get no input on the formulation of the resolutions? These resolutions were formulated through an opaque, distributed system of mini-conferences and other events leading up to the main event.

      Having said all of that, I think this event will be significant in ways that go beyond the official resolutions.  This is a bunch of active, involved, highly motivated, and largely progressive people -- and it is a great networking event.

    •  fire alarm (none)
      Actually, we had an emergency fire evacuation just before 11am and after both the GAO Comptroller General and an Intell exec railed against the unsustainability of the present American eldercare/healthcare system.  It cut the end of the plenary session short.

      I don't really think this counts as agenda control, but...

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