Why Chained CPI is a “catfood proposal”

As we reported, Chained CPI is a benefit cut to Social Security, and Obama has offered it to Boehner as his half of the mutual sacred-lamb sacrifice. (What does Social Security have to with the deficit? Nothing. But Social Security is the pony Pete Peterson wants for Christmas, and Obama wants to give it to him.)

Obama has offered Chained CPI; what does that mean?

First, a reaction from 50,000 feet. Nancy Altman from SocialSecurityWorks (my emphasis and paragraphing throughout):

“This is a cut affecting every single beneficiary — widows, orphans, people with disabilities and many others.  It is a cut which hurts the most those who are most vulnerable: the oldest of the old, those disabled at the youngest ages, and the poorest of the poor.

Perhaps fittingly, this will be done during the holiday season, when the American people are distracted,” Nancy Altman, the founding co-director of the advocacy group Social Security Works said in a statement.

She didn’t mention veterans, but she could have. And Joan McCarter at DailyKos:

Christmas comes early for Boehner

Merry Christmas, Mr. Boehner. Your stocking just got stuffed with concessions on tax rate increases, increased spending cuts, and a Democratic president doing what no other Democrat has ever done, cutting Social Security benefits. And it’s still not enough for you.

Even though it came from a president who just won a huge election with a mandate on those very things: a hard line in the sand on ending tax breaks for the top two percent, and protecting all of the middle class, including seniors.

In other words, clear post-election “treachery” from Obama — but not treachery enough for Boehner. He wants a saddle on that pony. (Got a saddle, Mr. Obama? The Pete Peterson Ranch probably has a spare you can borrow.)

The numbers on Chained CPI, how much damage it will do

And now to the details. Here’s one look at what Obama is offering to do to you:

As part of deficit-reduction negotiations, some policy makers have proposed switching to the chained consumer price index (CPI) to calculate the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and other programs.

The chained CPI would lower the annual COLA, reducing the value of Social Security benefits more and more over time. It is not a more accurate measure of inflation for the elderly – and it would be especially harmful to women, because on average they live longer than men, rely more on income from Social Security, and are already more likely to be poor.

And here’s some drill-down from the folks at StrengthenSocialSecurity.org:

[Chained CPI] would do real damage by changing the formula used to calculate the COLA. Here’s what you need to know about it:

  • It’s a benefit cut. It’s not some minor technical change to the COLA. It’s a real cut to the benefits you have earned every year into the future.
  • It cuts benefits more with every passing year. After 10 years, your benefits would be cut by about $500 a year for the average retiree. After 20 years, your benefits would be cut by about $1,000 a year.
  • It hits today’s Social Security beneficiaries. Politicians like to say that their cuts to Social Security will not affect those getting benefits today. Wrong! Switching to the chained-CPI would hit all current beneficiaries.
  • We need a higher COLA, not a lower one. The current COLA is not large enough–it does not adequately account for large health care cost increases faced by seniors and people with disabilities.

That page has three telling charts. The first shows benefit cuts directly attributable to Chained CPI relative to the current COLA:


The second shows how much food that means not eating, the “catfood” quotient. Each of those missing meals has Friskies written all over it:


And finally, here’s what a genuine “senior-friendly” COLA would look like, compared to both the current COLA (already inadequate) and the Chained CPI proposal. Measure from the top blue line to the bottom red line — that’s your real lost benefit.


That’s what Obama wants to take out of seniors’ hides. And when he says he’s wants to protect the poorest from the Catfood CPI damage, he means he wants the middle-class to take even more of a hit.

What’s the schedule?

The schedule for all this is tight. This is from Senator Reid:

Reid: Senate likely coming back the day after Christmas

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) warned Monday that the Senate is likely to be in session the day after Christmas as Congress and the White House work to avert the forthcoming “fiscal cliff.”“It appears at this stage – we’ll see if anything changes – but it appears we’re going to be coming back the day after Christmas,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday afternoon as lawmakers returned to Washington.

During his remarks, Reid cited three must-dos to complete before Christmas: A deal to avert the fiscal cliff, the need to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and to pass the$60 billion supplemental spending request to provide federal aid to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut communities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

And here’s from Boehner:

In this final week before Christmas, Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner must come to some accord by Tuesday [today] to get some measure through Congress before lawmakers depart, some Republicans say. In the House, Mr. Boehner has a three-day rule requiring that many days before a vote so members can familiarize themselves with legislation. The rule can be waived, but that would require a majority vote from the full House.

If the sides fail to reach an agreement, they would likely have to call lawmakers back to the Capitol in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which could pose additional challenges. After Dec. 31, absent some bipartisan action, taxes would go up for every taxpayer with the expiration that day of the Bush-era tax rates, and tens of billions of across-the-board cuts would be made in domestic and military programs, potentially causing a recession, economists say.

The tightness of the time is our friend. Be active; use it.

Bottom line

I’ll give you two. One, make this toxic. Senate, House, and White House phone numbers are available at the link. Put every office-holding Democrat on the hook for the consequences. Tell each one:

A vote for this from you and I’ll support a primary the next time you run.

Two, remember this betrayal. Even if (when) we roll this back, Obama (Betrayer of Hope & Change) has shown his hand. There’s much more where this comes from, and we need to show him in his true colors. This isn’t retaliatory; it’s tactical. He’s image-sensitive and legacy-hungry. That’s our bargaining chip for the next four years.

Finally, keep this in mind:

The second term hasn’t even started and he’s showed his hand. Thank you, sir. I really appreciate that.



To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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