In a basement room of the US Capitol on Wednesday, a cluster of House Democrats gathered to announce legislation that would revamp the Social Security system, by both increasing benefits and extending the life of the program. It didn’t—and won’t—get much attention, as the Senate was busy nuking the filibuster and installing a new Supreme Court justice this week, and as the president potentially blathered his way into a serious escalation in Syria.
But Democrats won’t be out of power forever, and an effort to reshape the country’s most important social insurance program gathered considerable momentum in that basement room. When very similar legislation was introduced in 2015, a little over half of the Democratic caucus co-sponsored it. Now, over 80 percent of House Democrats—156 members—are backing the bill. And this comes just four years after a Democratic president put Social Security cuts in his budget proposal.
The “Social Security 2100” act, spearheaded by Representative John Larson of Connecticut, has a few elements that would increase overall benefits. The first is a straightforward benefit increase, across the board, that would amount to a 2 percent increase of the average benefit.
The legislation would also change the inflation measure by which the government decides how much to automatically increase benefits each year. Right now, the government uses the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) to calculate Social Security benefits. Obama repeatedly proposed using a less generous inflation formula, chained CPI, that would have increased benefits more slowly.
But the “Social Security 2100” bill would use CPI-E—an inflation index specifically targeted to elderly Americans, who have different costs than the rest of the populace. This likely would lead to greater cost-of-living increases for elderly Americans, who have been poorly served by an inflation index based on the cost of living for urban workers. For example, if gas prices are dropping, inflation is low, and the cost of living doesn’t change much, there is no bump in Social Security benefits. (That happened in 2015.) But many seniors don’t drive, aren’t affected much by gas prices, but do see the costs of medicine and health care continue to rise steeply. The new inflation index would more accurately measure those costs.