Depending on who's talking, sequestration will take effect on 1 March (about three weeks) or it will be delayed again.
If you haven't been keeping up (hard to do on this topic), sequestration, as used by members of Congress, is an obfuscatory word that means automatic spending cuts. Big ones. Matthew Yglesias at Slate offers the only really simple explanation I could find:
”Sequestration is broad, automatic, across-the-board cuts to most categories of government spending...
“Social Security, Medicaid, targeted anti-poverty programs, military pay, and the operational cost of ongoing wars are exempted. Benefits for Medicare patients won’t be touched, but payment rates to providers will.
“Everything else is getting the ax. And it’s not a small ax. The military's 2013 budget will be cut by just over 7.3 percent, and domestic discretionary programs will be cut by over 5 percent.”
If you want to know how the nation got into this pickle, go read the rest of Yglesias's easy-to-understand explanation linked above.
Pundits and Congress members have various points of view on the 1 March sequestration deadline: some (mostly Democrats) say that it would be devastating to the fragile economy and others (mostly Republicans) think it wouldn't hurt much or, as some suggest, would allow it to happen because they are eager to blame Democrats for it.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, President Barack Obama lobbed first salvo to avoid sequestration and also said this:
(You can watch the full seven minutes here.)
To be certain we heard right, let's read what the president said in regard to what he calls “entitlements” when he should be using “earned benefits”:
"The proposals that I put forward during the fiscal cliff negotiations with Speaker Boehner and others are still very much on the table.
“I just want to repeat. The deals that I put forward, the balanced approach of spending cuts and entitlement reform and tax reform that I put forward are still on the table."
Uh huh. Please recall that what the president put on that table he says is still there are an increase in Medicare eligibility age, means testing and decrease to Social Security benefits via switching to the chained CPI to calculate cost-of-living increases.
So the president's opening bid is to cut the deficit on the backs of old people. President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), Max Richtman, responded shortly after the president's Tuesday speech:
”For too long, many in Washington have pretended that 'shared sacrifice' means that if a millionaire loses a tax break then the middle-class and poor must also lose their modest benefits in Medicare or Social Security.
“This false equivalency pretends that a tax dollar lost to a millionaire or huge corporation is the same as a benefit dollar lost to a retiree living on $14,000 a year from Social Security. America’s seniors know that’s not a fair and balanced approach, it’s not sensible reform and it’s not the path to economic recovery.”
Certainly you recall Vice President Joe Biden's definitive 2012 campaign statement on Social Security:
“Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you,” Biden said at The Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart, Virginia,” there will be no changes in Social Security,” Biden said, per a pool report. “I flat guarantee you.”
But the president has contradicted Biden more than once as during this appearance on Meet the Press on 30 December 2012:
”What I've said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations,” said Obama...
“...one of the proposals we made was something called Chain CPI, which sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated on Social Security.
“Highly unpopular among Democrats. Not something supported by AARP. But in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long-term I'm willing to make those decisions.”
Just to be clear, instituting chained-CPI for Social Security COLAs is a cut in benefits for current, not just future, beneficiaries. As Josh Rosenblum explained on Huffpost yesterday,
”Chained CPI would take $112 billion directly from the pockets of Social Security beneficiaries and $25 billion in veteran's benefits over just ten years. Eventually Social Security beneficiaries would lose a month's worth of benefits every year.”
So I don't trust President Obama on this issue for a second.
There is a brand new poll from the National Academy of Social Insurance titled, Strengthening Social Security: What do Americans Want [pdf]. Here are the three key findings directly from the report:
• “Americans don’t mind paying for Social Security because they value it for themselves (80%), for their families (78%), and for the security and stability it provides to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and children and widowed spouses of deceased workers (84%).”
• “84% believe current Social Security benefits do not provide enough income for retirees, and 75% believe we should consider raising future Social Security benefits in order to provide a more secure retirement for working Americans.”
• “82% agree it is critical to preserve Social Security for future generations even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans, and 87% want to preserve Social Security for future generations even if it means increasing taxes paid by wealthier Americans.”
That is both gratifying and astonishing. It's not often nearly all Americans come together to agree on a single point and especially so when they know it would cost them money.
I often ask you to write and call the White House and your Congressional representatives over the issues of Social Security and Medicare. But not today, not yet.
Next Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. Let's see what he has to say about earned benefits before we get fired up. Meanwhile, keep your typing and dialing fingers warmed up.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Men