...a Democratic president has proposed to cut Social Security benefits. That's not rumor, that's official. It is an item in the budget plan Barack Obama will send to Congress on Wednesday.
The cut is, as we have discussed in these pages many times, a different way of calculating cost-of-living increases called “chained CPI.” It measures inflation in a different way from currrent calculations so that COLAs would be reduced by .3 percent per year.
That doesn't sound like much but it is cumulative year to year and cuts so much money from beneficiaries who have earned it through a lifetime of work (estimates range from $100 billion to $208 billion over 10 years), that chained CPI is popular among deficit hawks (I now assume Mr. Obama to be among them).
Plus, those hawks have wanted to kill Social Security since the day President Roosevelt signed the legislation for it in 1935 and this looks to them like a terrific beginning.
Remember, the money comes out of the hides of Social Security recipients and it is not just old people Obama is selling out. It would negatively affect pretty much everyone in the U.S. except rich people for whom the change is so small in comparison to their wealth as to be unnoticeable.
In addition to elders who receive the Social Security old age benefit, others whose income would be reduced include:
- Disabled veterans and family survivors
- Veterans' pensions
- Disabled who rely on SSDI
- Everyone who pays federal income taxes due to adjustments to tax brackets by chained CPI too
Elders, veterans, children, widows and widowers, the working class, the poor along with all future beneficiaries of every type whose benefits under chained CPI would start out lower than without chained CPI.
Obama's proposal for chained CPI includes “protections for the vulnerable” but contains no details about who that is or how that determination would be made. This would create an additional layer of Social Security bureaucracy to gather forms, documents, tax returns and who knows what else to prove someone is "vulnerable."
The New York Times, in reporting on the president's budget proposal, had this to say about chained CPI [emphasis is mine]:
”As Mr. Obama has said before, his budget documents will emphasize that he would support the cost-of-living change, as well as other reductions that Republicans have called for in the popular programs for older Americans, only if Republicans agree to additional taxes on the wealthy and infrastructure investments...”
And that brings us to the politics of Obama's chained CPI offer.
Some pundits and commentators say that Congressional Republicans will never agree to additional taxes so don't worry about chained CPI. In fact, on Friday House Speaker John Boehner rejected the president's proposal.
Some other observers suggest that offering up chained CPI is a savvy president's political ploy. As Jason Easley explains it:
”What the White House is doing is a clever bit of political strategy. They are using something that Republicans really want (Social Security cuts) to force Republicans into making a choice on whether or not to defend raising taxes on the wealthy. The president knows that his budget is DOA, so he is using it to push his broad overall goal of raising taxes.”
Oh yeah? And what if that idea backfires and the Republicans go for it? Do we really want to rely on Boehner's tax intransigence to protect Social Security?
Once upon a time, back in September 2008, then-candidate Obama made this campaign promise:
Apparently that was then and this is now because the president has been offering to cut Social Security via chained CPI since last summer. So there is no point in hammering the White House with objections.
Here is Robert Naiman at Truthout explaining, ”The only thing that can stop President Obama from cutting Social Security now is Congress.”
”...public pressure on Congress to stand up to Obama and say no. The pressure that has been exerted so far was not sufficient to stop President Obama from doing this. Therefore, public pressure against Social Security cuts must significantly escalate.”
That would be you, me, our friends and neighbors and relatives and everyone else you can think of – young and old because it affects all of us - must fight this ourselves.
There are a number of web petitions against chained CPI and on Wednesday, several progressive organizations are holding call-ins to Congress. You don't need to wait until then to tell your representatives “no to chained CPI” but I will have a bunch of links on Wednesday for you to use.
If you don't do this, if you don't help all the rest of us fight as hard as we can with as many phone calls, petitions and emails as it takes to preserve Social Security for ourselves, our children and beyond, you deserve to have your benefits cut.
If we lose this battle, let's at least be able to say we tried.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: There Were Blizzards in Those Days