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Champagne Wishes, COLA Dreams: After two years with no increase in Social Security cost-of-living allowances (COLA), benefits are expected to rise as much as 3.5 percent in 2012. The COLA is based on inflation, determined by comparing the current third-quarter consumer price index with the previous year’s third quarter. In 2008—the last year in which Social Security recipients got an increase—rising energy prices pushed the COLA to 5.8 percent, the highest increase since 1982. The government will announce the actual increase amount for next year on October 19; recipients would start seeing the increases in January 2012.

Breaking the Bad Budgeting Cycle: For the 14th year in a row, Congress missed the deadline for passing a budget bill for the upcoming fiscal year. When this happens, the legislature is forced to pass stopgap spending measures to keep federal programs funded (and we are forced to endure sky-is-falling reports of impending ‘government shutdown‘ over and over). Last year, it passed eight such measures, often within days or hours of shutdown.

“It used to be that one of the ways Congress was judged was the number of appropriations they passed by the end of the fiscal year,” said Stan Collender, a budget expert and partner at Qorvis Communications. “Now we say it’s a success when Congress avoids a government shutdown. Talk about decreased expectations.”

There has got to be a better way than this new, not-so-fun game of political brinksmanship that we get to watch Congress play over and over again, no? At least some members of Congress agree: The Senate Budget Committee today will hold a hearing on ways to improve the federal budget process, and the House Budget Committee held similar hearings last month. Some fixes members are suggesting include drawing up two-year budget plans instead of one, and bringing the President into the budget process earlier on.

Newsmaker: Can you tell me how to get, how to get from Sesame Street (to public radio)? Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell (featured below in an AARP Life@50+ expo video with AARP website editor Bernard Ohanian and Grover) has been named the new head of NPR, a position he’ll take over December 1.

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Tuesday Quick Hits: Health insurance behemoth Aetna is teaming with CVS to offer Medicare prescription drug plans … What’s in a name for older adults? … Billy Graham’s new book on aging, Nearing Homewill be released October 18 … President Obama asks Congress to stop stalling on jobs bill … The Senate today will hear evidence on Medicare prescription drug abuse, in wake of a new report citing its prevalence … And there’s no such thing as a ‘harmless’ stroke.

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