Benefit cuts in Obama’s ‘compromise’ budget draw protests

WASHINGTON – Last week, pro-labor and progressive activists were warning that the Obama administration was about to propose changes in the system for calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases that amounted to serious cuts in Social Security.

Next week the President is expected to do just that in a formal budget proposal that would base future cost-of-living hikes for Social Security recipients on the “chained CPI,” instead of the Consumer Price Index.

Labor and its allies in a broad array of movements are rising up against the plan.

“Chained CPI is a Social Security cut plain and simple.” said AFL-CIO Director of Policy Damon Silvers. “One of the key things that makes Social Security a real provider of economic security is that it has a Cost of Living Adjustment that protects the value of benefits as time passes. Chained CPI is a Washington trick.”

Members of the Progressive Caucus and African American and minority lawmakers in particular are rejecting the plan.

“Everyone has a grandparent, a friend or a neighbor who relies on the Social Security benefits they earned to pay for medical care, food and housing,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) “A move toward chained CPI would be a long term benefit cut for every single person who receives a Social Security check.”

To that end, senior and veterans’ groups in particular, are up in arms. The chained CPI approach, according to the AARP, would slash $146 billion from senior and veterans’ benefits over the next 10 years.

“The COLA change would hurt seniors and vets who are already on tighter budgets stretched now by prescriptions, utility bills, mortgage and health care costs,” the association said in a statement..

Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’sFuture said that “if Obama pushes the chained CPI as part of a proposed ‘grand bargain’ with the GOP to reduce future federal budget deficits he’ll alienate key parts of his coalition, break faith with the voters and shatter the Democratic Party.”

The CAF has been inundating the White House all week with e-mails opposing the chained CPI and any cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

Fifty five percent of voters oppose the “chained” CPI. A recent poll, Strengthening Social Security: What Do Americans Want?, from the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), highlights a large majority, 64 percent, thought the COLA should be increased to better protect seniors and other beneficiaries from inflation and rising prices of food, utilities and other necessities.

The chained CPI produces a smaller measure of the prior year’s inflation, to calculate smaller Social Security benefit hikes than the currently used measure – the Consumer Price Index. More than 50 million people now get Social Security and tens of millions more rely on it as their prime source of retirement income.

Obama is expected, on Wednesday, to send a budget plan to Capitol Hill that is different form the usual statements of principle regarding the budget that Republicans have rejected out of hand.

The idea is to get the Republicans to agree to new taxes on the wealthy and on corporations in exchange for the Social Security cuts.

Some commentators said this morning that since Republicans don’t look like they are willing to give any ground on higher taxes for corporations, that the president’s proposals don’t really amount to much – no one, they say, has really moved off their original positions.

Progressives are not taking any chances, however, and since they expect the president to propose some very specific cuts they are speaking out.

“Let us not balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable,” said independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“What the chained CPI would do to seniors on Social Security is bad,” Sanders said. “Many of them are living on $13,000, $14,000 or $15,000 a year on Social Security benefits. The chained CPI would say to them, if you are 65 today, by the time you are 75, your benefits would be cut by some $650 a year. By the time you are 85, your benefits would be cut by $1,000 a year.

“What this whole debate is about is how do we go forward with deficit reduction in a way which is fair, a way which is moral, and a way which calls for good economic policy. I would argue when some of the largest corporations in America pay zero in federal income taxes, before we cut Social Security and benefits for disabled veterans, we ask those people to start paying their fair share of taxes.”

“This must be stopped,” Hickey warned. The “grand bargain” Obama proposes to reach with the GOP on deficits “would bargain away the pillars of the New Deal.” Hickey calls the grand bargain “a grand swindle.”

The proposal on budget deficit reduction coming from President Obama is supposed to replace the indiscriminate sequester cuts that went into effect several weeks ago. The administration has said that it would back things like the chained CPI and other cuts, however, only if Republicans agree to significant additional taxes on the rich.

The other spending reductions included in the ‘compromise’ Obama budget include $400 billion from health programs and $200 billion from farm subsidies, federal employee retirement programs and unemployment compensation. In Medicare, savings would come largely from payments to health care providers and pharmaceutical companies and by having higher income beneficiaries pay more for coverage, but also from what would amount to cuts in benefits, critics point out.

Advocates for Medicare point out that even with the sequester cuts, which were supposed to shield Medicare, there are reports now that Medicare patients are not getting needed chemotherapy treatments at clinics which themselves have been forced to make cuts due to the sequester.

Photo: Workers, joined by Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, speak out against Social Security cuts. Courtesy Talk Radio News Service // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. Along with being labor editor, Wojcik is a co-editor of  


  • So much for the “Hope and Change” or “Forward” campain from Obama. He sure fooled everyone to vote for him again. Just like the CPUSA members asking my grandparents to donate all their money to their organization when they die. How despicable.

  • Please give an explanation, not an excuse, for Obama’s betrayal of his labor, elderly and other supporters. How are progressives to respond to this blatant attack on working and retired people?

  • Niggardly pinching is nothing for those sold, somehow on the universal selfishness of imperialism, in an era of “too big to fail” corporations, raping the U. S. Treasury and the capacity both to produce and finance of its millions and millions of workers(including idol workers literally dying from imperialism’s excesses and almost totally disregard for the environment’s sustainability.
    It is no mistake that Congress’s outstanding opponent of Social Security cuts, Barry Sanders, is a socialist, but many, many, millions Social Security beneficiaries of worthy, poverty level, youth and elderly, also oppose these, who are not socialist, at least by name.
    President Obama, once again, is poised to “compromise”, before the struggles of progressives, the poor, labor, have asserted themselves, creating an illusion of necessity to conciliate the minority, nefarious, prevaricating, manipulating, mendacious, far right, with all its genocidal, apocalyptic, earth threatening consequences for the president’s constituency.
    Jobs, jobs, jobs, on an unprecedented scale, one comparable to the historical W P A program of April 8, 1935(see PW article, in window)with its theatre, art, engineering, literature and historic preservation, excavation and construction, with union, Wagner Act-like labor protections.
    Massive labor and working class “street heat” is necessary to show the president the people’s resolve to expand Social Security, strengthen it, along with Medicaid and Medicare, having the government as first and last employers, the arm of the whole people of the United States of America who rule corporate America, the “too big to fails”, president Obama, the Congress and Wall Street.
    “Universal selfishness”, of capitalism and attendant reactionary government, that great Du Bois identified as “doomed to failure”, is what the great congressperson John Conyers fights to counter when he, in addition to strengthening Social Security, advocates and expansion of Medicare and Medicaid.
    Like brother Conyers urges- we must demonstrate to the president with massive “street heat”to show him the way.

  • When you just wait on Obama, the ruling class corporate parties, to put forward their positions, without pushing for org’d labor’s political independence, a fight to put forward OUR/PEOPLE’S needs—-this is what happens!

    It is a betrayal of historic proportions, that has the potential of literally destroying the base of the democratic party.

    The time is right! We need to push for labor to call for a march on DC, with labor’s allies, supporting a fed jobs bill to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure w/Green energy & for retiree security.

    Obama represents the best of the ruling, corporate/capitalist class. We do have a tasit alliance, but it requires org’d labor to stand up and speak up for regular working folks. Without that, the corporate elements will use us for all they can & throw us out along with yesterday’s paper!

  • Good job. While the clock ticks on climate change, an artificially induced economic crisis created by US corporate elites has Washington DC politicians “on thin ice”. What may seem politically correct (to balance the budget) could be risky business for a President committed to change the direction of this country. Pitting seniors, disabled and dependent children against financially powerful Wall Street bankers and Big Oil company executives is an example of the kind of failed policy that voters expect leadership to address. Hands off Social Security and Medicare. “No” to a chained CPI and other gimmicks that divide people.

  • Not a “compromise”. but a petty-bourgeois phoney “liberal” lie. Remember last year that Obama and the Democrats had already “offered” the Republicans ninety percent of what they had asked for, and Boehner turned it down, saying it still wasn’t enough. Yet Sam Webb and the CPUSA supported the “progressive” Obama in the last election. Obama and the Democrats did, and continue to do, exactly what they as petty-bourgois liberals would be expected to do. It was Sam Webb and the CPUSA, in supporting Obama and the “progrossive” liberals ,who “compromised” and and, basically, sold out the proletariat. This is Trotksyite revisionism, pure and simple.

  • You can fix this illogical sentence, “More than 50 million people now get Social Security and tens of millions more rely on it as their prime source of retirement income,” by removing the second “more.”

  • Thats great….But how do you explain Sen. John Kerry (D) giving Egypt $250 million in taxpayer money but claiming cuts have to be made in the US because of the Sequester Obama signed. No Sequester in Egypt.

  • why on earth would washington try and close the budget gap using the old and people on fixed income like social security nd medicare. I paied into this for 47 years, according to my accountant , a total of about $2. million dollars and wold like to get a little of it back now. take it from the 1% paying little or no taxes.


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