April 16, 2013

So I guess this is the part where people explain to me that the Republicans are only pretending to support cutting Social Security, and it's all eleventy dimensional chess and nothing to worry about. But see, I just don't believe that, and I think the Obama administration will use his budget as the basis of a September sequester deal. (You know, the same sequester he practically begged them to impose, so he would have cover for cutting our safety net?)

Call your Congress creatures. Congressional switchboard: 800-998-0180

President Obama’s offer to trim Social Security benefits has perplexed and angered Democrats, but GOP leaders are embracing the proposal and rushing to jump-start a debate that will delve even more deeply into the touchy topic of federal spending on the elderly.

This week, two House subcommittees plan to hold hearings on “reforms to protect and preserve” programs for retirees, starting with Obama’s proposal to apply a less generous measure of inflation to annual increases in Social Security benefits.

Also on the table are higher Medicare premiums and reduced benefits for better-off seniors, and a higher Medicare eligibility age.

At the same time, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he has moved to tamp down criticism of Obama’s proposal, which quickly bubbled up from GOP lawmakers in swing districts, such as Rep. Chris Collins (N.Y.), who accused the president of cutting spending “on the backs of our seniors.” And Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the chairman of the House Republican campaign arm, called Obama’s plan “a shocking attack on seniors.”

The developments signal an important shift in the budget battle as party leaders nervously prepare again to raise the federal debt limit. After more than two years of talking about taxes and “wasteful” government spending, policymakers appear ready to move into the more serious and sensitive realm of entitlement programs.

Republican leaders have made reducing the cost of entitlements their top priority, and for good reason, budget analysts say. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security account for nearly 40 percent of federal spending and are growing rapidly, as they must provide benefits to all who qualify, regardless of cost.

Once again, the Washington Post conflates the funding of Social Security with that of Medicare, and can't seem to work up enough enthusiasm for the alternate methods of cutting Medicare spending -- like negotiating lower prices from Big Pharma, for instance.

Recipients pay into the programs throughout their working lives, and through premiums. But as the baby-boom generation retires, the programs threaten to swamp the federal budget. But relatively minor changes could make a huge difference. For example, the new inflation measure — known as the chained consumer price index, or chained CPI — would reduce benefits by only about 0.3 percentage points per year. But over the long run, it would save enough to wipe out as much as 20 percent of the program’s 75-year funding gap.

See? It doesn't even occur to this journalist that less painful methods accomplish the same thing -- like raising the income cap.

The elderly are disproportionately likely to vote, however, and although Republicans have offered a plan to overhaul Medicare a decade from now, both parties have shied away from more immediate changes, particularly to Social Security. Chained CPI has come up in private negotiations and recommendations from independent groups, such as the Bowles-Simpson commission. But Obama’s decision to include it in his formal budget request — and House leaders’ decision to hold hearings with the hope of drafting bipartisan legislation — is plowing new ground.

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