In his search for a ‘grand bargain’ on the budget, president Obama has repeatedly signaled his willingness to cut earned benefits such as Social Security, a long-standing goal of the oligarchy. The way it is proposed is to replace the current Consumer Price Index or CPI, the current way of measuring the rate of inflation, with something called the ‘chained CPI‘, which would have the effect of lowering the reported rate of inflation. This is important because Social Security payments (as well as disabled veterans benefits and food stamps) are tied to the rate of inflation so lowering the ‘official’ rate would result in reduced payments to all those groups.
Politicians know that this is an explosive issue with voters, especially the elderly and veterans, which is why no one wants to take the lead on this. Any party that is seen as being responsible for this change will get a drubbing at the next elections which is why it they want to introduce it as part of a bipartisan package, whereby everyone is responsible and no one can be singled out for blame.
The progressive senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont decided to try and pre-empt such a deal. Over the weekend, he introduced an “amendment to the budget resolution backing the Older Americans Act, the landmark law that supports Meals on Wheels and other programs for seniors” that opposed the switch to the chained CPI as the basis for the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment (known as COLA), forcing senators to go on the record on this issue.
The result was impressive. His amendment was passed by a unanimous voice vote with not a single dissent. As Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said:
With all the Republicans who pronounce endlessly on the need to cut entitlement spending, there was not a single Republican senator who was prepared to say that switching the Social Security COLA to a chained CPI was a good idea. And even though President Obama has repeatedly stated as clearly as he could that he supported the switch to a chain CPI, there was not one Democratic senator who was prepared to stand up and speak in solidarity with the president.
As Baker points out, what was also interesting is that the major news media which has been relentlessly pushing the idea that earned benefits (or, as they prefer to call it, ‘entitlements’) must be cut, none of them reported this news.
John R. MacArthur points out that Obama’s desire to introduce the chained CPI is all of a measure with his skillful oratory that manages to fool everyone, saying “You have to hand it to Barack Obama when it comes to having it both ways: He never stops serving the ruling class, yet the mainstream media, from right to left, continues to pretend that he’s some sort of reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt, fully committed to the downtrodden and deeply hostile to the privileged and the rich.”