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Monday, September 24, 2012

Chained CPI of fools

by digby

A good friend questioned my cynicism the other day about Obama's newly aggressive defense of Social Security at the AARP meeting and I thought hard about that. I've been extremely hard on the administration for their stated desire for a Grand Bargain long before the fiscal cliff was even hatched -- in fact, since the beginning of the first term. And I guess I just tend to be suspicious any time a President suggests early on that he has a grandiose plan for his legacy and then uses "problems" that come along later to justify it. If Obama hadn't said straight out that he wanted to solve all the problems of the world with his Grand Bargain I might not be so cynical.

Well it turns out that I'm not the only one. This guy is cynical too:

One of the most progressive voices in the caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), said he was heartened to hear Obama tell the AARP last week that he'd be open to raising the cap on income that's taxed for purposes of paying into the Social Security trust fund. Sanders also applauded the president for taking off of the table any reform language that resulted in the "slashing" of benefits (several Social Security advocates, disagreeing with Sanders, said they were worried such language was counterproductive, as it opens the door for cuts that could be deemed minor).

But the Vermont Independent worried that all of this could be posturing for the lame-duck session immediately after the election, when lawmakers are expected to rush to find another "grand bargain" on tax and entitlement reform to stave off the so-called fiscal cliff.

"That's exactly what's going to happen," Sanders said of Social Security being on the proverbial table, "Unless someone of us stops it -- and a number of us are working very hard on this -- that's exactly what will happen. Everything being equal, unless we stop it, what will happen is there will be a quote-unquote grand bargain after the election in which the White House, some Democrats will sit down with Republicans, they will move to a chained CPI."

If he's worried, I'm worried. The Chained CPI is a benefits cut. And it's one that will hurt those who remain on Social Security the longest, usually elderly women in their 80s and 90s. I suppose they can try to go out and get a job to augment their inadequate incomes, but I can't think of who will hire them. This is a prescription for catfood for these very old people.

Sanders asked Huffington Post to get the president on the record saying that he would not do this. And this, predictably, was the result:

By Monday morning, the Obama campaign had moved slightly in the opposite direction, with top adviser David Axelrod refusing to unveil any specifics about what the president had planned for Social Security reform.

"[T]he approach has to be a balanced one," Axelrod told MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "We've had discussions in the past. And the question is, can you raise the cap some? Right now Social Security cuts off at a lower point. Can you raise the cap so people in the upper incomes are paying a little more into the program? And do you adjust the growth of the program? That's a discussion worth having. But again, we have to approach it in a balanced way. We're not going to cut our way to prosperity. We're not going to cut our way to more secure entitlement programs -- Social Security and Medicare. We have to have a balance."

So what is the president's proposal, asked Time magazine's Mark Halperin.

"Mark, I'll tell you what: When you get elected to the United States Senate and sit at that table -- this is not the time," replied Axelrod.

I love how it's always this "pay a little bit more" like we couldn't possibly ask these job creating Galtish heroes to kick in more than a pittance lest something really terrible happen.

Feeling optimistic? I didn't think so. After all, it's not as if the Republicans aren't going to demand their pound of elderly flesh so they can run against the Democrats for cutting Social Security. (Their adoption of Mediscare should finally relieve the Democrats of any assurance they won't.)

No, the best case scenario for a "balanced approach" on Social Security is a tiny raise in the cap for the tiny percentage of zillionaires who own this country in exchange for catfood eating old women. That's the "balanced approach"." they're seeking.

The only thing we can hope for is that either the left or the right wings of the congress --- perhaps both --- say no. It will be a lot more likely if they have a chance to organize in the new congress than if this is all done at lightening speed to avoid going over the fictional fiscal cliff in the lame duck.

Lame duck gridlock is in out best interest in so many ways. This is definitely one of them.