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The Walk to Walden’s Woodshed and Other Contradictions in the Obama Budget

It’s news these days that the President has dinner with members of Congress. Had President Obama enjoyed more meals or even an occasional beverage with some members of Congress in both parties, he might have found out that putting the Chained CPI in his budget could derail his entire legislative agenda because of the passions roused in both Democrats and Republicans against the proposal.



One of the key messages coming from the White House when the President’s usual allies began openly criticizing his budget, was a time-trusted blame game statement that insisted “It was Speaker Boehner’s idea.”  While that may be the case, the Speaker didn’t put Social Security cuts in the House’s budget or even request that they be added as an amendment.  The President did.  The claim that he didn’t own the proposal when his budget owned the proposal is not the only contradiction surrounding the Chained CPI proposal, but it’s one of the more notable ones.

Related: Why the Chained CPI is Wrong for Social Security

Just before the President released his budget this month AARP released national and state polling asking specific questions about the Chained CPI proposal that would cut benefits for veterans, children, widows, retirees, and people with disabilities as well as raise taxes for most Americans.  To no one’s surprise, except perhaps the President and his staff, the vast majority of older voters, the people who make up a large proportion of the voters in the 2014 midterm elections, had strong feelings against making cuts to our Social Security benefits.

We’ve seen that the message the White House uses to defend its own budget isn’t being bought by members of the President’s party nor is it being bought by many in the GOP.  Speaker Boehner dismissed the President’s budget and one of the Speaker’s House leadership team, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), called the budget proposal a “shocking attack on seniors.”  Of course Walden got in to trouble with one of quasi-bosses, the Speaker, while his actual boss, the people in Oregon’s second Congressional district didn’t seem to mind his comments in support of them.



Another of the contradictory things the President and his staff have said about the benefit cut for veterans, children, widows, people with disabilities and seniors is that it’s a “small tweak.”  In the budget released by the President is also the line that “most economists find the Chained CPI [the benefit cut] to be more accurate.”  This line is as blatant a lie as the “small tweak” line.  While economically speaking many agree the formula is accurate, most of the people who agree on its accuracy also agree that it isn’t at all accurate for seniors, because it doesn’t calculate the money older Americans spend on health care.

The President’s budget ties itself in knots by carving out multiple groups from the Chained CPI to ‘protect the most vulnerable.’  If it’s more accurate, then why does anyone need to be protected from it?

For example, older Americans would get a so-called “birthday bump” as Social Security beneficiaries, with an $800 bonus added to their benefits after a certain amount of time.  If the formula were more accurate, they wouldn’t need any such bonus or bump.  But the $800 bump unintentionally emphasizes that the Chained CPI is in fact a benefit cut.

Other groups could face multiple cuts to their benefits.  For example, a disabled veteran may face two benefit cuts if the Chained CPI becomes law: one as veteran benefits would be cut by the new formula, and one as Social Security benefits are cut by the new formula.

AARP believes the Chained CPI shouldn’t be applied to anyone, and that Americans deserve a separate debate about strengthening Social Security, a program that doesn’t contribute to the deficit.  After all, the government borrows from Social Security, which has a $2.7 trillion surplus and can pay benefits in full until 2033.  So there’s no need to propose changes that would harm our veterans, children, widows, people with disabilities and older Americans.

To review, four myths, or contradictions we’ve seen in the President’s budget on Chained CPI:

MYTH: Chained CPI is a more accurate measure for inflation.
FACT: If it were more accurate, the President’s budget wouldn’t need to turn the formula on its head and carve out only certain groups while others suffer the unnecessary consequences of benefit cuts.

MYTH: Many Republicans and Democrats agree with Chained CPI.
: Numerous Republicans and Democrats immediately distanced themselves from the President’s budget when they saw that he had included Chained CPI which would be a benefit cut for children, widows, veterans, people with disabilities and seniors.  The Chained CPI would also increase taxes on most Americans.

: The Republicans made the President do it.
: Neither the Republican House of Representatives nor the Democratic U.S. Senate included Chained CPI in their budgets.  Both of these budgets passed their respective chambers.

: It’s just a small tweak.
: The Chained CPI is no small change.  It’s a massive benefit cut that impacts children, widows, veterans, people with disabilities, retirees. Chained CPI also raises taxes on most Americans, which is why even the conservative Americans for Tax Reform opposes it.

Let’s work to convince the President and Congress these myths don’t belong in anyone’s budget.


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