Melissa Harris-Perry was on vacation this weekend, but I was very happy to see her guest host, Joy Reid and her panel members go after Democrats and President Obama for pretending that this god awful proposal for chained CPI would not be a cut in Social Security benefits for our seniors who can least afford it.
Sadly we don't have the opportunity for a group of actual liberals to debate policy as we saw here very often and are usually treated to our millionaire beltway Villagers talking about how we must extract a pound of flesh from the most vulnerable among us to balance our budget on the cable news programs instead. This was definitely a welcomed change of pace from what we're treated to far too often on MSNBC, where we've got way too many of them pushing for more austerity and cuts to our social safety nets, because heaven forbid we can't have taxes on members of the beltway cocktail party circuit going up.
On Melissa Harris-Perry on Sunday, panelists discussed the fact that Social Security was on the table in fiscal cliff negotiations — which has “progressives calling foul,” said guest host Joy Reid.
She discussed a proposed plan to divorce Social Security benefits from cost of living increases and tie them instead to the “chained consumer price index,” which assumes that people will buy cheaper alternatives when products become expensive.
House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claims that such a shift would not be a benefit cut and would strengthen the program, but others claim it would inevitably lead to reduced benefits.
Reid goes on, “As we await a [fiscal cliff] deal, one of the most looming questions we face is just what aspects of Social Security are on the table?”
Recently, 102 Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) requesting that a shift to chained CPI be removed from consideration.
As they noted, that got some real push back from The Nation's Richard Kim and their other guests, Bob Herbert and Raul Reyes.
REID: Last week, we had 102 Democrats sign a letter and they were demanding that chained CPI be left out of the deal making. Do you think that they're right to be concerned?
KIM: Absolutely and you know, I'm a little disappointed and surprised to hear Nancy Pelosi say that it's not a cut. It's absolutely a cut and it's going to be a cut down the line for thousands and thousands of dollars a year for senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, who have no other, many of them have no other source of income, who are facing rising costs in health care and food. And so the idea that, you know, when chicken gets too expensive, you buy tuna and when tuna gets more expensive, you buy what? Cat food. I mean, that's really the sort of principle behind the chained CPI. And we're taking from the most vulnerable levels of the population.
REID: Let me push back on that just a little bit. Two things. Number one, the President's proposal to go to chained CPI included holding harmless poor seniors. Right. He wanted it to be means tested so that poor seniors won't be hit by it. And then the other thing is that progressive groups have proposed this too. The Center for American Progress back in 2010 put out a report and they called for all of these reforms in Social Security – adding same sex couple benefits to it, having a minimum benefit for the poor, having increased benefits for people over age 85. They had this sort of comprehensive proposal. But on about page 24 of their proposal was chained CPI. And they said the reason to do this is that chained CPI is considered a more accurate measure of consumer price indexes, since CPI is based on sort of an unrealistic measurement. And they calculated that it would result in a .3 percent deduction in the average benefit. So that's the push back on that.
KIM: Well, the deduction actually accumulates over time, right? So you're on these sort of arcs that go like this. So actually in the long term, in ten, twenty years, it's quite a big reduction because it accumulates, right. But, you know, the problem with all of this is that Social Security is not the problem here. We don't need to be discussing this as part of the deficit. We need to talk about the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and stimulus spending to get the economy back in shape.
REID: And I know Bob that's another issue. Because it's true Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.
HERBERT: Richard is so right. It should not even be part of this discussion. You know, the Republicans have been on the march against Social Security since the 1930's. I would say defend it. Don't allow any change here. And so, you know, it's just really... it's just really horrible.
REID: Well, Raul, is there any way to get to a progressive solution that addresses... because okay, Social Security is solvent until 2037. But at some point you do have to deal with it, right. Why not deal with it now? Can progressives get behind that?
REYES: I just... one thing I think progressives do not like is because President Obama specifically campaigned on this. He said Social Security would not be on the table in this instance. So it's very fresh in people's memory. I also have to take offense with, I think part of the reason this is going through is because chained CPI, it's a concept, it's complicated, and most people are like, what does that mean or even know about it. And I feel like it's almost a way to try to slip something aside.
You can read the Center for American Progress' report where they were in favor of chained CPI here. I think Kim's point about Social Security not adding to our deficit and Herbert's about the fact that it shouldn't even part of this discussion cannot be repeated often enough.
What astounds me with Democrats being willing to put Social Security cuts on the table is they seem to have learned nothing from how Republicans have operated in the past. If they think the GOP will allow them to cut Social Security and not go after them for it in the mid-term elections, then they haven't learned a damned thing from how they campaigned against them on Medicare cuts. They will assume the public is completely clueless and they have no shame whatsoever with their willingness to lie.
They go along with cutting benefits and we can look forward to ads from Republicans saying that Democrats hate seniors and went after your Social Security, just like they did with their Medicare ads during the last two elections. Never mind that they're the ones who actually want to destroy the programs.