Once again, President Obama has taken a rather strange path on the way to negotiating with Tea Party-drunk Republicans.
His latest budget proposal—which includes marrying Social Security to so-called “Chained CPI,” a way to measure inflation that pleases folks at the reactionary Heritage Foundation—may or may not make an acceptable compromise at the end of the budget process and the back-and-forth with the opposition party, but including Chained CPI as part of his initial proposal is no place to start.
And no one summed it up better than the incomparable Robert Reich:
Democrats invented Social Security and have been protecting it for almost 80 years. They shouldn’t be leading the charge against it.
That is exactly—exactly—right. As the former Secretary of Labor notes, Chained CPI is a “stingier” formula for calculating inflation adjustments to Social Security payments than even the current stingy formula. Reich also points out:
Social Security benefits are already meager for most recipients. The median income of Americans over 65 is less than $20,000 a year. Nearly 70 percent of them depend on Social Security for more than half of this. The average Social Security benefit is less than $15,000 a year.
Yet, at the start of budget negotiations with never-give-an-inch Republicans in Congress, a Democrat in the White House is proposing a formula for calculating adjustments to future Social Security payments that, again as Reich reminds us, Paul Ryan didn’t even include in his rayless and Randian budget. That is a weird and seemingly defeatist posture to take at the beginning of what will obviously be some difficult, if not nasty, budget negotiations.
Now, all that having been said, there may be a way to make Chained CPI work as a method to reduce future costs to the Social Security program, but that way must—must—include protection for those folks who, as Reich put it, get relatively “meager” benefits under the program.
Time will tell whether Obama’s relatively solid legacy will be tarnished by his rush to compromise with uncompromising Republicans, but he’s not exactly off to a good second-term start by offering Chained CPI at this point in the budget process.
But the press, always anxious to push the Republican Party’s false but widely believed the-debt-is-killing-us meme, will give the President much credit for pissing off liberals, and perhaps pissing off liberals is exactly why Obama’s budget has that stingier cost-of-living adjustment in it. He can now tell Republicans: “See, look how serious I am about entitlement reform and look at how much anger among my base I have created. Now, let’s dance.”
And Republicans, smelling blood, will say: “Dance? Why, sure, we’ll dance. Especially now that you’re dancing to our music.”
Oh, by the way. One of those Republicans who gets mostly undeserved credit for being “sensible” on budget issues, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, called President Obama’s budget plan,
A beginning point.
Yep, a “beginning” point. As this White House has done almost from the start, it begins in the middle and the rest, like the public option-less ObamaCare, is history.
Meanwhile, the economy continues not to produce enough jobs for Americans, wages are stagnant or declining, and wealth inequality is increasing. And just about the only talk about public policies that would help create jobs, increase wages, and narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, is coming from the left, those whom the President has, purposely or not, just pissed off with his Chained CPI proposal.