It is pernicious because if it gets included in a tax-and-spending agreement between the Obama administration and Congress it won’t be described as a benefit cut but as a supposedly more accurate way to calculate cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security benefits. But it will not be. It will instead lock seniors, including current Social Security recipients, into a cycle in which their monthly check covers less of their living costs each year. It will make senior citizens poorer over time.
That is the argument Edwards makes in her “dear colleague” letter, which has already been signed by 32 members of Congress as of earlier today, about the “chained CPI.” That is a way of calculating increases in the cost of living that yields a lower percentage than the standard cost-of-living measurements currently used in government programs. (Otherwise, why would people look to it as a cost-saving measure?)
We’ve been warning about the impact of a chained CPI for a long time, including in this post Richard Eskow wrote more than a year ago. As Edwards’ letter points out, experts who have examined the impact have warned that switching to a chained CPI would mean that benefits would not keep up with the living costs seniors face. Dylan Matthews made the same point recently in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, concluding, “It’s basically a big (5 percent over 12 years; more, if you take a longer view) across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits paired with a 0.19 percent income surtax” on middle-class seniors.
Call 202 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your House representative. Tell the office you want your representative to sign the Edwards letter saying no to the chained CPI. Let’s stop Congress from putting chains on Social Security benefits.
Here is the text of the Edwards letter:
I urge you to join me in urging congressional leadership to prevent cuts to Social Security during negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff. In the midst of recent fiscal cliff negotiations, there has been discussion of adopting the chained CPI. Application of the chained CPI would prove detrimental to the millions of Americans who rely on Social Security benefits. While Social Security should not be conflated with these budget negotiations, these discussions pose a serious threat to the benefits and the decades-old promise made to the millions of seniors and Americans who rely on Social Security.
Speaker Boehner’s plan to avoid the fiscal cliff would change the formula to measure inflation from the traditional CPI to the chained CPI. The Congressional Budget Office finds that the chained CPI grows more slowly than does the traditional CPI and states, “although many analysts consider the chained CPI a more accurate measure of the cost of living, using it for indexing could have disadvantages” and adoption “may understate growth in the cost of living for some groups, such as older people.” In addition, the report states “the effects would be felt with each COLA, when benefits would be slightly smaller than they would have been without the change in indexing. The impact would be greater the longer people received benefits.”
The American people have made it very clear—don’t cut Social Security. Let’s stand with them by sending a letter urging congressional leadership to avoid cuts to Social Security and particularly to oppose the application of the chained CPI.
Isaiah J. Poole worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. He is a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.