Conference on Aging rules trouble local delegate

EVERETT – When the White House Conference on Aging begins today, Steve Kofahl of Everett will be among the 1,200 delegates in the nation’s capital debating how Congress can better serve seniors.

He hopes substance trumps symbolism in the three-day gathering, from which dozens of policy recommendations for federal legislators and President Bush are awaiting action.

“This is a bit of a rare opportunity, and we want to make good use of it,” he said.

The national conference is held every 10 years or so to focus on issues, policy and research in the field of aging. The first was in 1961 and the last was in 1995.

Past conferences are credited with helping establish Medicare and Medicaid, passing the Older Americans Act and creating a national nutrition program for seniors.

Participants come from every state, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. Twenty-four Washington residents are taking part, appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, a member of Congress or the National Congress of American Indians.

Kofahl is an employee of the Social Security Administration and president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3937. He was selected by U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.

Kofahl is also one of six members of the Alliance for Retired Americans in the Washington delegation, a contingent that is disappointed with the wording in some of the 73 proposed resolutions.

“They’re not what we hoped for,” he said.

Kofahl said the resolutions are scrubbed of conflict with any of the president’s goals.

Social Security is one of the major disappointments. The resolution that delegates will debate reads: “Establish principles to strengthen Social Security.” The alliance sought specific wording opposing privatization.

“There was a resolution submitted to the White House opposing privatization, but it is not part of the package, so we’ll have to raise the issue in a work group on Social Security,” he said.

The new Medicare prescription drug program is another subject. Delegates will consider a measure promoting enrollment. Kofahl said problems encountered with the new program should be mentioned too, but are not.

Bill Holayter of Shelton, a delegate and alliance member, said that at past conferences on aging, new resolutions could be proposed with the support of 10 percent of the delegates. That rule is not in effect this time, though Washington’s Alliance members will try to get it reinstated so they can put forth their suggestions.

“How can you hold the first aging conference in a decade and not allow for delegates to speak openly and candidly about issues of critical importance?” Holayter asked in a statement issued by the organization. “We won’t be muzzled.”

Secretary for Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta are among the scheduled speakers. President Bush is not scheduled to address the delegates.

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