There has never been a time in the history of psy-chology’s political action program (38 years) that the role of the Association for the Advancement of Psychology (AAP) has been more critical than the present time. The unprecedented political turmoil in Washington combined with almost four years of a fal-tering US economy, have thrust psychology services into imminent danger of being chopped by the federal budget ax. At the August AAP Century Club Reception, this year’s honoree, Senator Sherrod Brown, amplified this point when he expressed his fear that psychology’s “valuable services could face cuts in the upcoming federal deficit reduction negotiations.”
Some psychologists (not AAP members, of course) may think that their practices are immune from such threats because, for instance, they don’t provide Medicare services. I’d like to tell them, think again. Medicare benefits and all federal programs provide the standard by which all private insurance companies determine the mental health benefit packages they themselves will offer to providers. All psychologists who participate in any sort of third party reimburse-ment are affected by this threat.
Summer seemed to zip right by this year and for much of it, we were bombarded by the incessant media cov-erage of the debt ceiling crisis in Congress. A short term fix was finally agreed upon in the eleventh hour, averting financial armageddon, as you know. The com-promise agreement included the creation of a new 12 member “Super Committee,” a congressional debt reduction commission which is tasked with figuring out a way to cut a whopping $1.5 trillion in federal spending by November.
Given the composition of the Super Committee (6 Dems and 6 Reps), accomplishing this goal is, in short, a near impossibility given the current hardline partisan climate extant in DC. Republicans do not want tax rates to go up and will oppose any deal that includes tax hikes. Democrats are loathe to touch any aspect of entitlement spending that could impact recipients. If the group cannot work out a compromise between the competing partisan needs of each side, mandatory spending cuts will be triggered in areas both parties hold sacred, entitlement programs and military spending
It is no secret that he American public is fed up with the inability of our elected representatives to address the most pressing problems of our times due to unprecedented partisan recalcitrance. Polls show Americans not only want to throw the bums out, a view voters often express, but now they even want to eject their own representative. This change represents a colossal shift in voter attitudes. Heretofore, voters typically viewed their own elected officials as tolerable, while believing that most other elected officials were the culprits responsible for all the problems in Washington. That was then, and this is NOW. A Pew Research Center survey released August 25th said 86% of Americans were “frustrated or angry” with the federal government. Republican leaders’ approval ratings dropped to 22%, with Democrats not much better at 29%. During a recent TV interview, Senator John McCain spoke about this distress expressed by voters, “10% of the American people, I understand, approve of the Congress.” He then added with some humor, “not even one individual in that 10% has attended one of my town hall meetings.”
One thing about which there is little doubt these days is that government spending cuts are on the way. The question of the hour is: WHAT programs will be cut and HOW MUCH money will be cut? The Medicare budget will be sure to be on the chopping block despite the fact that it is a sacred entitlement program.
Psychologists simply can’t afford to sit this one out. In the chilling film, “Silence of the Lambs,” Hannibal Lecter advised guests, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” This quote captures the plight of psychology if we choose to do nothing and sit on our hands instead of engaging in political action. We must be at the table.
Despite the hard cold reality of the foregoing, all news for psychology is not grim. Take the composition of the Super Committee of 12, for starters.
Three of the twelve Super Committee members have been longtime friends to psychology over the years and relationships with each of them have been nurtured through AAP’s support. Patty Murray, the Committee’s Cochair; Max Baucus, Senate Finance Committee Chair; and Xavier Becerra, senior House Ways and Means Committee member have all been honored by AAP in recent years. AAP has worked diligently to insure that access to and open channels of communication with these individuals and many other important members of Congress remain productive. We must persist in these efforts, and with your support we can do so.
Elsewhere in this edition of Advance is a story containing a detailed history of AAP. I recommend that you read it and familiarize yourself with the course that psychology’s only political action organization has taken over the past 38 years. It is instructive to look at the obstacles that have been encountered by our political program during the past 4 decades. Not surprisingly, some of the most difficult challenges the program has encountered have emanated from within our own ranks.
Throughout its history, AAP has been an organization fundamentally supported and funded by the practice community. Today, in excess of 90% of AAP members identify “practice” as their primary concern, and in excess of 90% of AAP/PLAN contributors, identify themselves as practitioners. AAP has reached out to other segments of the larger psychology community over the year, and in recent years met with a modicum of success. Psychology’s education and training community. for example, has been making slow but steady progress in recognizing the importance of political action. AAP has hosted almost a dozen fundraising dinners for this community over the past decade. But the fact remains, plainly and simply, practitioners comprise the vast majority of supporters of AAP and AAP/PLAN. Because of this basic fact, AAP’s political agenda has been and continues at present to be directed toward advancing those legislative issues impacting practitioners.
While the APA and even the APA Practice Organization must represent a broader array of the larger psychology community’s interests in their lobbying agendas and direct their financial resources to address the concerns of this broader psychology community, AAP has the luxury of focusing the preponderance of its energies on a narrower segment of the psychology community, practitioners. AAP enjoys the kind of status of a specialty organization which in this case is defined by the percentage of members/ contributors who identify themselves as practitioners.
Thank you for your past support. I hope AAP can count on you to continue that support in 2012. Please consider increasing your support during this critical time for our profession. Help AAP to continue working to advance psychology’s concerns in federal government programs and among lawmakers in Washington. Send in your AAP membership dues renewals and make as generous a contribution to AAP/PLAN as you can. If you are so inclined, you could perform an additional really great service at no cost to your pocketbook. Corral a colleague and persuade her or him to join you by becoming a member of AAP. They can do so at the AAP website: www.aapnet.org.