Social Security COLA announced; Safety net shrinks; What you can do

The 2013 cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for Social Security was recently announced. The good news — the government saved even more money that can be handed over to rich people (sorry, “Chinese-job creators”). The bad news — it comes out of the pockets of the retired and disabled.

Couple via Shutterstock

All this damage is done even before Obama’s soon-to-be attempted “chained CPI” plan kicks in (see below for more). If “chained CPI” goes into effect, COLA will be defined even further downward. (No, Obama hasn’t proposed it … yet. As near as I can figure, he’s waiting until he’s safely re-elected and can start polishing his legacy. And yes, Romney & Ryan, should they mount the throne, will do even worse. No matter which way you turn, they’re all going to try for this one.)

So first the news, then some outrage, then some strategizing. There’s a lot you can do.

The news

US News has the story (my emphasis):

Social Security COLA to Rise 1.7% in 2013

Social Security benefit payments will rise by only 1.7 percent in 2013, down sharply from a 3.6 percent increase in 2012′s cost of living adjustment (COLA). That boost followed two years of no COLA increase. The Social Security Administration said next year’s COLA would raise the average monthly benefit payment by $21, to $1,261 from $1,240.

For people still working, the COLA increase will also translate into a higher earnings ceiling for Social Security payroll taxes. The ceiling was raised this year to $110,100 and will increase in 2013 to $113,700. Social Security payroll taxes are expected to further increase because of the scheduled lapse of the cut in employee payroll taxes—to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent of covered wages—that’s been in effect in 2011 and 2012.

The COLA change also affects numerous other Social Security benefits, including the tax treatment of outside income earned by recipients, disability payments, and how much money working people need to earn each quarter of the year to qualify to earn credits for Social Security payments when they retire. These changes are spelled out in an online fact sheet [from the Social Security Administration].

I left the middle paragraph in for your information. The action is in the first and last paragraphs above, and in the rest of the article. Do click over if you care about this stuff.

The outrage

As I said, this is already bad, and if Obama has his way, the “already bad” will get worse. Here’s HuffPost’s Ryan Grim & Arthur Delaney (again my emphasis):

Social Security Advocates To Congress: Don’t Cut Cost Of Living Adjustments

WASHINGTON — A coalition of 96 organizations representing veterans, the elderly, minorities and labor unions on Tuesday used the occasion of the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment to plead with Congress not to manipulate the [cost-of-living] measurement as a way to reduce the deficit in coming negotiations over tax and spending policy.

Leading members of both parties have hit upon the cost of living raise to help pay for extending parts of the Bush tax cuts as part of a new “grand bargain” to reduce future deficits. By swapping out the current measurement for a new, stingier method of gauging inflation, politicians hope to reduce Social Security benefits over the long term, enabling more of the tax cuts to remain in place.

The coalition of Social Security defenders argued that such cuts would be devastating to seniors, more than 40 million of whom received Social Security benefits in August, according to the program’s latest monthly statistical snapshot. The average senior on Social Security receives $1,235 per month. The benefits lifted nearly 14.5 million seniors out of poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The writers have more and the piece is well worth reading in full. Here’s what they say about the “chained CPI”:

The stingier inflation measure is called the chained CPI. It accounts for the way consumers try to avoid inflation by not buying the same goods as prices increase. For instance, if the cost of turkey goes up, some consumers will switch to chicken. Some economists and members of Congress consider the chained CPI a more accurate measure of inflation; senior and labor advocates say the chained CPI will just make people poorer.

“The cuts that Social Security beneficiaries and others would face as a result of implementing the chained CPI may seem to some like a relatively small sacrifice, but the cuts quickly snowball as they compound, growing deeper every year,” the advocacy groups, led by Washington-based Strengthen Social Security, said in their letter to congressional leaders.

Do click to read that letter (pdf). It’s excellent. Note that “chained CPI” reduces benefits for all recipients, not just future ones.

Not outrageous enough? How about a taste of what Our Betters think of this proposal, a sample of the kind of sacrifices this means for us Littles. HuffPost writers explain chained CPI in terms of  turkey and chicken, things real people buy. Here’s the same explanation from one of the out-of-touch geniuses who run this joint (Our Betters). Notice what examples come to his mind:

See? It’s as simple as dropping down to an Audi. I’ll bet you $10,000 he eats mostly steak — at lobbyist expense. Here’s a little more about Syl Schieber. He’s credited as former chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board. He also used to be VP for research and information at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a lobbying firm with over 7000 employees before it merged into an even bigger entity. Sounds like a steak-eater to me. As a writer, he thinks demographics and government regulation are part of the retirement problem.

Needless to say, Syl and his new Democratic friends need to be stopped if at all possible.

Strategy — what you can do

Things are heating up on this. The basics are these three items:

▪ It’s a safe bet Obama wants this. He’s been angling for something like Simpson-Bowles for years. Heck, Simpson-Bowles is his commission. (For more on why I say this with such certainty, click here.)

▪ Unless the Dems take the House, there are only two places this can be stopped — at the White House and in the Senate. The White House is likely — but not certainly — a lost cause (see above). In addition, Sen. Whitehouse said last month that if Obama doesn’t take a strong stand, many Dem senators won’t either. I take that as a request from Mr. Whitehouse, in public, for Obama to do what he fears Obama won’t do. More confirmation of the first point.

▪ In the Senate, Bernie Sanders has marshalled 29 Democrats who will “oppose including Social Security cuts … in any deficit reduction package.” He, they and the 96 organizations mentioned in the HuffPost article are organizing a resistance to this lame duck catastrophe.

The primary pressure point is in the Senate. (In my view, there’s potentially a second one in the White House, but I’ll save that for a later post.) Thus, applying pressure means doing these four actions:

1. Raise a constant and public stink about this. There are many actions being planned. You can start by signing the petition put up by the central organizing group, StrengthenSocialSecurity. Later they will have a central place to sign on to help out. (Update: Sen. Sanders’ petition is here and has over 17,000 signatures as of this writing. Please do click over and add your name.)

2. Barrage the 29 senators who signed Bernie Sanders letter, asking them (firmly but politely) to keep their word. We need them to go for the win and not the show. I know they are already being courageous by bucking the leader of their own party. (There’s a real price for this kind of opposition.) And if cutthroat use of Senate rules can’t produce a win, there’s no point in taking it down that road.

But if cutthroat use of Senate rules can produce a win, ask them to use the power they have to accomplish their own goal. Remind them that there are 29 of them, a large enough group to provide some protection against the inevitable Dem retaliation. Remind them that both Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer (who many think wants to be the next Harry Reid) signed the letter. The ask:

If this is really as important as you say it is, stand together for strength and go for the win. Take risks for the people you’re protecting.

The list of signing senators is here. The list of senate phone numbers is here. You can call as many as you like, and you don’t need permission. Be sure to start by thanking them. They’re the ones who got this going.

3. Barrage the non-signing senators with questions and complaints. Some are up for re-election this year. Some are even self-branded “progressives” (for example, Amy Klobuchar, whose helpful staff can be reached at 202-224-3244). Be polite, but make it uncomfortable for them to stay off the team.

The list of non-signing senators is here. The list of senate phone numbers is here. You can call as many as you like, and you don’t need permission.

4. Report your results so that what you do has resonance and amplification. There will be a whip-count page at Campaign for America’s Future in the next couple of days. I’ll edit this post with the address when it’s live. To report, simply email the results of your senatorial communication to:

lameduck@socialsecurityworks.org

There are many people doing this, but it’s all uphill. Please help the effort. Just four steps will get started.

Bottom line

In my view, all four actions are needed. This is a media education effort; a raise a stink effort; and a whip the Senate effort. The stink raises the heat under the senators. Communicating with your senators — even over-communicating with them — also raises the heat. And don’t forget to report back. Your call pushes them. Your report multiples the effect of your call and encourages the rest of us. Ultimately, should these cuts be proposed, we want them to die in the Senate if at all possible.

Rubinite neo-liberal dreams don’t collapse on their own, you know; they have to be killed. This is a good chance to show some progressive muscle, to grow our progressive coalition. We have Sanders and a good bunch of very good senators with us. A win would send a sweet message, don’t you think? Let’s not waste the opportunity to send that message.

And thanks to you all for your efforts.

UPDATE: For more of my thoughts on Obama and the Lame Duck session, see this YouTubed interview with Matt Filipovicz for a recent episode of this show.

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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