fresh voices from the front lines of change







Greg Sargent is reporting tha the White House says they will make sure that the Chained CPI sell-out won’t hurt the most vulnerable seniors. I don’t know if they are basing this on the Simpson-Bowles formula, but if they are, it’s bullshit:

As part of deficit-reduction negotiations, some policy makers have proposed switching to the chained consumer price index (CPI) to calculate the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and other programs. The chained CPI would lower the annual COLA, reducing the value of Social Security benefits more and more over time. It is not a more accurate measure of inflation for the elderly – and it would be especially harmful to women, because on average they live longer than men, rely more on income from Social Security, and are already more likely to be poor.

Recognizing that the chained CPI targets the oldest, poorest Americans, some deficit-reduction plans propose an increase in Social Security benefits for long-term beneficiaries in an attempt to mitigate the cuts from the chained CPI. This analysis examines how effective the “20-year benefit bump-up” proposed in the Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission report would be in protecting the typical single elderly woman – a woman with an initial benefit of $1,100 per month, the median benefit for single women 65 and older – and other vulnerable beneficiaries from the impact of the chained CPI.

  • The cut from the chained CPI would reduce her monthly benefits by an amount equal to the cost of one week’s worth of food each month at age 80. She would still have two years to wait before receiving any help from the bump-up.
  • The Bowles-Simpson bump-up would restore her monthly benefits to current law levels for only two years – and then benefits would fall behind again.
  • By age 95, the cut in her benefits would equal the cost of three days’ worth of food each month.

Take a look at those dollar amounts. Is there any good reason we are even thinking about cutting benefits instead of raising them? On what planet does anyone think that people who have that kind of money don’t need every last cent just to keep a meager meal on the table.

Here’s a little contrast for you:

Durbin is out there saying this is too heavy a lift for the Democrats. Pray he’s right. Or better yet, call your Senator of either party and tell him or her that you are adamantly opposed to cutting Social Security benefits. It’s shocking that you should have to do it, but considering the language of the last campaign it shouldn’t be surprising:

EHRER: All right? All right. This is segment three, the economy. Entitlements. First — first answer goes to you, two minutes, Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?

OBAMA: You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it is — the basic structure is sound.

Here’s what I wrote about that the day after that debate:

Now they are talking about “tweaking” the way benefits are calculated, which will probably hit the baby boomers, mostly women, who manage to live the longest, the hardest. Of course, if they don’t fix that once they see the misery they’ve caused among the oldest and most vulnerable part of the population, the oldest Americans of the next generation will suffer just as much.

These “tweaks” always look unexceptional on paper. But if you are one of the millions of people who are looking at a very meager income in your elder years, barely enough to survive really, a “tweak” becomes a life-threatening blow.

The problem with this entire conversation is that Social Security is already inadequate. It’s barely enough to keep the elderly out of grinding poverty and compared to other industrialized nations it’s a joke. Benefits need to be raised not cut. But the grand success of the relentless fear mongering from deficit fetishists like Alan Greenspan and Pete Peterson over the years is that the entire conversation revolves around the idea that the system is so unstable that the only possible “compromise” is to agree to “tweak” benefits and pare them back over time — until the system loses its essential value to the American people and they can finally turn it into an investment vehicle.

The president says he’s ready to “tweak.” And we know that Mitt Romney can hardly wait to take a meat ax to it. If he were to win, I’m guessing the conservative Democrats in congress would rush to jump on his bandwagon. (They certainly always have before.) So, it would appear that your best chance is to vote for progressives who will stand up to either Romney or Obama when it comes to Social Security.

And we got some in. Unfortunately, they aren’t in the congress yet. On the other hand, you can still call your congressional Rep and Senator of either party and tell them that you do not want cuts to Social Security. There may be enough fear of the rickety third rail left out there to stop this.

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