Sunday, March 24, 2013

Putting American Seniors In Chains With Chained CPI


Enjoy the fantasy; Richard Burr will never be arrested for his crimes against America

Few Republicans-- other than the machete-wielding lunatic fringe, the Gohmerts, Stockmans, Brouns, Pompeos and, in the Senate, the 18 who voted outright to end Social Security [Randy Paul (R-KY),John Barrasso (R-WY), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Miss McConnell (R-KY), Jerry Moran (R-KS), James Risch (R-ID), Tim Scott (R-SC), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA)], who just want to shut it down entirely-- ever get into the specifics of how they want to cut back on Social Security and Medicare, the country's two most popular safety net programs. But Friday night, maybe because it was so long past his bedtime, Richard Burr (R-NC), blurted out his support for how he wants to cut Social Security benefits for seniors: “I support chained CPI, just like the president when it comes to entitlement reform." Burr isn't known for supporting the president on much anything, ever. Have they found common ground-- annihilation of the crowning jewel of the progressive legacy?

There was a voice vote to nix using the chained CPI scheme to cut benefits for veterans and it passed, but there was no recorded roll call. It was an amendment put forward by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus, and co-sponsored by progressives Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Even Burr, a bloodthirsty advocate of cutting benefits for seniors with the chained CPI said he opposes using it against veterans. It wasn't a binding vote but Bernie seemed happy enough with the half loaf:
"The time has come for the Senate to send a very loud and clear message to the American people: We will not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, their legs and their eyesight defending our country. We will not balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who have already sacrificed for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor on the widows who have lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan defending our country."
The AARP hailed the vote on Sanders' amendment: “With the adoption of Senator Sanders’ amendment, the Senate makes clear the need to protect retirees, veterans and others from an unwarranted cut to their benefits. Much more than a mere technical adjustment or a ‘tweak,’ the chained CPI would, over the next ten years, take a combined $146 billion out of the pockets of America’s veterans and seniors who are already living on tight budgets." Sarah Jaffe explained what the chained CPI actually does to hurt seniors and how it pushes a deadly Austerity Agenda.
Barack Obama "prefers" it. Nancy Pelosi is willing to consider it. The AARP, organised labour, and progressive Democrats in and out of elected office are entirely opposed.

It is "Chained CPI", the new favourite bit of jargon being tossed around in very serious policy circles as a possible bargaining chip in a budget Grand Bargain. The consumer price index (CPI) is a measure of inflation that is used to calculate cost-of-living-increases for programmes like Social Security. The "chained CPI" is a different method of calculation that presumes that when the price of one product goes up, people will simply buy something cheaper. Using this formula to calculate Social Security, veterans' benefits, and other programmes (including, for instance, Pell grants that help lower-income students afford college) would amount to a cut in benefits.

Republicans and many Democrats-- including, apparently, the President-- want to do it. They want to establish the wildly popular New Deal social safety net as part of the problem and they want to cut it. And this little scheme sounds enough like not cutting benefits that the objective press is able to pretend that it is just a technocratic adjustment, really, instead of what it is. (It is also a stealth tax increase.)

Yet Obama's economic adviser Gene Sperling noted in a Reddit discussion last week that "protections" from the cuts would be necessary for "low-income Americans, certain veterans, and older Social Security beneficiaries". If we need to protect people from it, how is it good policy?

Chained CPI is a particularly nasty kind of politics. What it actually does is change the adjustments for cost of living according to "behaviour". As Thom Hartmann writes: 
"If the price of beef goes up, and some people start eating cheaper chicken instead, then instead of measuring actual inflation (as reflected by the rising cost of meats), the Chained CPI measures the behaviour of moving from beef to cheaper chicken and lowers the cost-of-living adjustment."
In other words, screw what you want to eat, what you like. You're buying the cheap stuff.

This is tied to a particular kind of personal austerity politics that the Right loves and too many liberals accept, a kind of asceticism that they push on the elderly and lower-income people in a convoluted way rather than just straight-up cutting their monthly allowance. And yet it is a trap-- if you adjust to the cheap stuff, you get your benefits cut, so then you have to adjust more to cheaper stuff, and then they cut you again. The cuts aggregate, meaning people who rely on Social Security longer (more women, for instance) get hit harder.

Of course the obvious next question is, what if people do not want to eat chicken instead of beef? What if grandma wants a steak? We are supposed to assume that desire is simply off the table; for people living on government programmes, you forfeit your right to prefer the tastier food, the pleasure of a well-cooked steak or fresh vegetables from the farm stand, or god forbid a night out at the neighbourhood restaurant. Nope, subsistence level is good enough for you! You want that steak, you should have planned ahead and saved for your retirement!
Sanders' office explained the parameters of what using the Chained CPI would do-- whether it gets signed by a President Barack Obama, a President Mitt Romney or... a President Ted Cruz. And it isn't just the 3.2 million disabled vets who would suffer. Yes, veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65, and benefits for more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children who have lost a loved one in battle also would be cut. Dependency Indemnity Compensation benefits already average less than $17,000 a year. If that wasn't bad enough, adopting a Chained CPI scheme would devastate the standard of living of 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans who receive Social Security. It would cut Social Security benefits for average senior citizens who are 65 by more than $650 a year by the time they are 75 years old, and by more than $1,000 once they reach 85. This is what Boehner, Ryan and Miss McConnell are fighting for-- but why is Obama going along with this relentless attack on seniors? (I imagine don't actually have to mention that unless we're killed prematurely-- like with an assault weapon Congress refuses to protect us from-- we'll all be seniors one day.) Here's the most important part of today's post:

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At 8:41 AM, Blogger Kay Dennison said...

Glad you covered this -- I've been railing against it for months!!!!

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama "going along"? Hardly. He's been crusading for it. 2laneIA


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