President Bush and 25,000 AARP (search) members will be in Las Vegas at the same time this week, but the Republican incumbent won't drop in on the organization that gave a boost to last year's Medicare prescription drug law.
The 35 million-member AARP invited Bush and Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry (search) to speak at the Las Vegas meeting. Kerry, who opposed the Medicare law, is on Thursday morning's schedule, AARP spokesman Steve Hahn said Tuesday.
The Bush campaign said it is dispatching first lady Laura Bush to the AARP meeting. The president had three previously scheduled events — all re-election rallies, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel. One of those rallies will be in Las Vegas.
Ed Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said public opinion polling shows the law is unpopular among older Americans. "No presidential candidate wants to risk being booed off stage by thousands of seniors. This drug benefit is not the victory for seniors the president plugs it to be and the president and his handlers know that to be true," said Coyle, a critic of the law.
Bush signed into law a Medicare prescription drug benefit amid Republican predictions that grateful older voters would reward the GOP in the November election. But Republicans have been on the defensive over ethical concerns, questions about the law's cost and seniors' complaints that it is confusing.
Last year, AARP backed the Medicare legislation, drawing strong criticism from Democratic opponents and prompting 60,000 people to resign their membership.
Since the law's passage, however, AARP has campaigned for changes, including making it legal to import cheaper prescription medicines from Canada and giving Medicare the authority to negotiate with drug manufacturers.
Kerry supports drug imports and negotiation of prescription prices between the government and drug companies.