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Chained CPI: 4 Opinions From the Press

It's not only politicians who have mixed reactions to a different way of calculating cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security benefits. Newspaper editorial writers and columnists are conflicted, too.


The chained consumer price index, included in President Obama's budget proposal, would mean that seniors' checks would go up a little slower each year. The chained CPI assumes that as prices go up, consumers buy cheaper substitute goods to make up for it.

Here's how it's playing among the mainstream press's opinion makers:

In Michigan, the Battle Creek Enquirer editorial said the chained CPI would pose a burden to the middle class and switching to cheaper goods is not so simple.

"Senior citizens, however, don't have the option of switching to less expensive health care. What's more, Social Security benefits are based on lifetime earnings before retirement, so while in a normal economy most people see wage increases far in excess of the cost of living, retirees are more or less stuck in time. Try living on what you made 18 years ago - the average length of retirement."

David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ties the CPI to the "imperative" of overhauling a Social Security system that is short of funds over the long haul. Shribman's piece recounts a civil war the issue has touched off within the Democratic party:

"The great political sin, or miscalculation, is that it is a Democratic president who is at the head of the chain gang to change cost-of-living adjustments which, by the way, weren't even made in 2010 and 2011 because inflation was so low. Barack Obama floated this idea in his budget proposal and immediately the lions pounced, proclaiming him an apostate, saying he had broken faith with the elderly, claiming that he had betrayed a glorious line of Democratic presidents going back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"Hold it right there. Social Security was President Roosevelt's brainchild and perhaps his most precious child. But when Social Security went into effect, there was no talk of cost-of-living adjustments, chained or otherwise."

Jim Gallagher, business news columnist of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, argues that the chained CPI will hit hardest at the oldest Amercians - those more likely to have spent their savings and to have the highest medical bills.

"If the prices old folks pay rise faster than Social Security payments, more will fall into poverty. Unless baby boomers and retirees start making a political stink - a loud one - they'll all have a somewhat leaner retirement."

A Washington Post editorial called President Obama's proposal politically courageous but criticizes him for blaming it on Republicans.

"Mr. Obama too often casts entitlement reform as a concession to extract Republican assent to higher taxes, rather than a worthy end in itself. This is especially odd regarding his proposed new cost-of-living measurement for Social Security: Mr. Obama's own budget documents say that it's 'more accurate' than the measurement now in use. Isn't 'more accurate' better?"


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