Among the few certainties in this world are that senior citizens don't speak with one voice and neither do the organizations claiming to represent them.
The diversity of opinion became clear in the health-care battle, when the biggest organization of retired people generated outrage from some members when it announced support for the Clinton-Mitchell-Gephardt plans.The organization, the American Association of Retired Persons, didn't formally poll members before doing so, and it conceded that 82 percent of 25,000 respondents to a query last October disliked the Clinton plan.
But spokesman Peter Ashkenaz says there's a difference between a recommendation of support and an endorsement. The board recommended that members support the plans, he said, but it didn't commit the organization.
This is far from the only conflict among senior citizens and the organizations that claim to represent them. Senior citizens are a power in politics as well as in the marketplace, and organizations battle to attract their contributions.
The Seniors Coalition, which claims to be the third largest senior citizens organization and which opposes the administration's health-care ideas, is demanding a congressional investigation of AARP.
AARP, along with the National Council of Seniors Citizens, receives huge grants from government while simultaneously lobbying to influence it, says Peter Bramell, Seniors Coalition chief.
To demonstrate, Bramell had one of his men visit the International Revenue Service, copy the tax returns of both organizations and send them to the media along with his comments.
Despite fewer than a quarter-million members, he said, the National Council received $68.7 million from the Federal government in 1992-1993 while producing just $245,855 in membership dues in 1993.
From this, said Bramell, the National Council's political action committee donated more than $220,000 to 74 congressional candidates, all Democrats.
Said Bramell: "Something is definitely not kosher when a politically active and partisan private organization bankrolls dozens of candidates and then receives 97 percent of its annual revenues from the federal till."
Such vitriol did not arise suddenly. Earlier, the National Council had called a news conference in the U.S. Capitol Building to discuss "The Fleecing of Older Americans in the Health Care Debate."
In announcing the conference, the National Council cited organizations opposed to the Clinton health reform plan "which have a documented history of making outrageous, untrue and deceitful claims about public policy debates."
It didn't name the Seniors Coalition but clearly it was one of the groups referred to. Pat Burns, NCSC communications director, later said the Seniors Coalition was little more than a "direct-mail cash cow" for its founders.
"Lizards, wolves, fraudulent to the core," he said.
At the conflict's core are the same disagreements that have been expressed by various other groups in recent months, centering around such issues as cost, availability, quality, choice and government vs. private-sector control.