A television ad that aired briefly in August 2012 stands as a warning today for lawmakers who want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

A man in a dark suit acting as Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, then the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate, pushes a wheelchair carrying a panicked-looking grandmother to the edge of a cliff. He dumps her over the rocky ledge. “Is America Beautiful without Medicare? Ask Paul Ryan and his friends in Congress,” the ad says.

The commercial, produced by the Democratic-aligned Agenda Project, ran only a few times in Ohio, Florida and Colorado during last year’s presidential campaign. Its enduring impact illustrates the power of the lobbying coalition that guards the health and financial programs for seniors.

The effort is led by AARP and its 37 million members. They’re joined by unions and Democratic-activist groups such as MoveOn.org, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and the New York-based Agenda Project and its action fund.

Lawmakers are “terrified” of the pro-seniors lobby, said Steve Bell, a former Senate Republican budget adviser.

“They have everybody on warning all the time,” said Bell, now with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit based in Washington. “The 30-second commercial of you pushing grandma in her wheelchair over the cliff is ready to go.”

A congressional budget panel will hold its second public meeting today as lawmakers work toward a self-imposed Dec. 13 deadline to present a longer-term tax and spending proposal that would reduce the nation’s deficit.

Backlash Concern

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are ripe targets because together they make up almost half of federal spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Lawmakers have shunned them because of concern about a political backlash. That calculation shifted as the potential for a bipartisan deal -- with shared blame or reward -- emerged in talks between President Barack Obama and House Republicans. Those negotiations collapsed.

Congressional budget conference leaders today are focusing on spending cuts outside of those programs.

“A great number of entitlement programs, mandatory programs, are not Social Security and Medicare,” Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican budget negotiator, said Oct. 30.

Stay Alert

David Certner, director of legislative policy for AARP, said seniors’ groups can’t let down their guard.

“It seems pretty clear that Medicare and Social Security, if not on the table, are always on a side table,” he said.

Proponents of reducing entitlement spending say AARP and its allies are winning.