Activists joined with members of Congress to form a human chain at the Capitol on Thursday to rebuke the Republicans’ latest “entitlement reform” scheme, the “chained CPI.”
Twenty members of Congress, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other Democrats, were joined by members of the Alliance for Retired Americans, Social Security Works and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Their aim was to defend retirement benefits that citizens depend on that are threatened by the proposed chained CPI.
“Chained CPI is a benefit cut, plain and simple,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif), who added that it is definitely a cut that seniors, veterans, and the disabled cannot afford. The chained CPI would cut benefits by at least $135 billion over 10 years.
The CPI, or consumer price index, is a calculation of how prices change over time. It is used to make cost-of-living adjustments in programs like veterans’ benefits, food stamps, and Social Security. The premise behind the “chained CPI” is that when prices rise, people settle for cheaper substitutes. Because of this, cost-of-living adjustments under the chained CPI would be lower than the actual standard of living, cutting benefits for citizens who need them the most. (Learn more from our Smart Talk on the chained CPI.)
Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) released this statement in conjunction with the human chain demonstration. “Social Security is a promise we must keep. The money our grandmothers, grandfathers, widows and children rely on should not be used as bargaining chips in any debate. Moving towards the new benefit calculation for Americans receiving Social Security, known as chained-CPI, will cost those on Social Security an average of $650 a year. For millions who depend on Social Security, a loss that large could force them to choose between rent and health care.”
“I believe that it is imperative that our seniors retire with dignity, and I firmly oppose any efforts that promote the chained CPI,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.). Clarke also commented on the chained CPI’s direct impact on senior citizens who receive Social Security. “At age 75, cuts would be $650 per year. At age 85, cuts would be over $1,150.”
Budget savings from benefit cuts are the main point of the chained CPI. Cuts would harm the eldest seniors the most, due to their exhausted retirement savings and high out-of-pocket health care costs. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) believes the chained CPI would “chain our seniors to a life of devastation.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said the chained CPI is “absolutely unnecessary,” because it “hurts the entire economy,” “hurts current beneficiaries,” “is really bad for people with disabilities,” is “bad for women because they receive less pay and live longer,” and is “bad for veterans.”
Schakowsky also said the chained CPI is “opposed by the majority of Americans.” For example, 62 percent of Americans believe that the Simpson-Bowles recommendation to adopt the chained CPI is “totally unacceptable,” according to Democracy Corps. A report from Pew Research states 56 percent of individuals believe that preserving current Social Security and Medicare benefits is a “higher priority” than reducing the budget deficit.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) thinks that lifting the “cap on earnings” is a better proposal. Instead of harming the benefits that seniors and the disabled receive, a more popular reform is to raise the cap on the payroll tax. This would allow for wealthier Americans to pay at the same rate as low-wage workers. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) wrapped up his speech bluntly: “Cut the crap, scrap the cap.”
Republicans think that they can trick the public into believing the chain CPI is a necessary “technical adjustment.” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) s
adjustment. It is a cut to vital services.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said that the Democratic caucus will continue to make sure Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are “untouched.” As for Republicans, “If they think they can wear us out of this, they’re dead wrong. Chained CPI is not the way to go.”