Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Obama closed his 2012 campaign with a populist flourish that seemed to suggest he was finally coming to believe his own rhetoric about the need for growth, as opposed to austerity. The strength of his message earned the president a mandate: a popular vote margin of almost 5 million, a landslide win in the Electoral College and significant gains in Senate and House races.
But now, he proposes to squander that mandate in pursuit of a “grand bargain” with House Republicans—a bargain that would replace the current approach to calculating cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients with a “Chained-CPI” scheme. The change will harm not just seniors, children and people with disabilities, but a fragile economic recovery.
Additionally, the president is reported to be prepared to propose some means testing for Medicare.
This is not Paul Ryan privatization. But it is a classic austerity cut.
It is wrong economically, and politically.
“Social Security is not driving the deficit; therefore it should not be part of reforms aimed at cutting the deficit. The chained CPI, deceptively portrayed as a reasonable cost of living adjustment, is a cut to Social Security that would hurt seniors,” says former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. “There are several sensible reforms to Social Security that should be considered to help make it sustainable, including lifting the ceiling on income subject to Social Security from $113,700 to $200,000 or more, as well as instituting a 1 percent raise in the payroll tax rate, a rate that hasn't changed in over 20 years.”
Reich, a Democrat, warns that the president’s plan abandons a historic partisan commitment.
“(Ever) since Social Security's inception in 1935 and Medicare's 30 years later, Republicans have been trying to get rid of them. If average Americans have trusted the Democratic Party to do one thing over the years, it's been to guard these programs from the depredations of the GOP,” explains the former Clinton administration Cabinet member. “Why should Democrats now lead the charge against them?”