Congressional progressives: “Chained CPI” throws seniors off the cliff

As talk of compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff” increases in Washington, members of the Progressive Caucus in Congress are calling on colleagues to oppose what they say is nothing more than a dangerous back-door attempt to cut Social Security: the “Chained CPI.”

They say it is a “back door” attempt because, if it becomes part of any final deal, it will be described as a new and accurate way to calculate cost-of-living adjustments rather than the cut in benefits it would actually be.

The chained CPI will trap seniors, the progressive lawmakers say, including those now collecting benefits, in a cycle in which their checks cover less and less of their living costs each year, making seniors poorer over time.

Almost 40 members of Congress have reportedly signed the letter initiated by Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., which she began circulating last week Experts who have examined the “Chained CPI” proposal, the Edwards letter says, have found that the change would amount to a cut in Social Security benefits.

It would amount to a five percent across-the-board cut over 12 years and be coupled with a 0.19 percent income surtax on middle-class seniors, according to the Edwards letter.

Blogger Dave Johnson noted Dec. 14 at that the move amounts to “DC elites literally saying that because old people cut back to cat food when people food is expensive, then we shouldn’t let Social Security rise enough to keep covering people food.”

The “Chained CPI” is touted as taking into account that seniors cut back when prices rise. “They are actually saying,” Johnson wrote, “that because people have to cut back to cat food, then they should only be getting enough to pay for cat food. The elites love the ‘Chained CPI’ because it helps keep the government from raising taxes on the rich to pay back what was borrowed from Social Security and used to give tax cuts to the rich.”

Advocates of the “Chained CPI” say that traditional cost-of-living adjustments are too generous because, while they account for increases in prices, they don’t account for how humans behave when prices go up. For example, a hike in beef prices would push up the traditional Consumer Price Index. What the Chained CPI advocates say is that rather than giving a cost-of-living hike we should wait to see, first, if consumers might switch to a cheaper meat product.

The members of the Progressive Caucus urge everyone to call 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your House representative. They ask that callers insist that their representatives sign the Edwards Letter that says no to the “Chained CPI.”

Photo: At a “Jobs Not Cuts” rally in Chicago, Dec. 10. PW


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