WASHINGTON -- A couple of days to think about President Barack Obama's proposal to cut Social Security hasn't done much to calm liberals furious about the idea.
Obama, who previously pledged not to cut Social Security benefits, has floated a plan to shrink the safety net program's cost-of-living adjustments by changing the way it measures inflation. The plan, revealed in the president's new budget, would shift Social Security's inflation measure from the standard consumer price index to a version called chained CPI -- or, as the White House dubbed it, superlative CPI.
Under chained CPI, instead of measuring the growing cost of the same set of goods to determine inflation, economists assume that when one product gets too expensive, consumers switch to a something less expensive one -- substituting cheaper hamburger for pricier steak, for instance. Therefore, the thinking goes, a person's cost of living rises less, and cost-of-living increases can be correspondingly smaller.
Many liberals despise the idea for numerous reasons, but chief among them is that it ultimately means cutting thousands of dollars from the benefits received by people on Social Security, especially people who live longer and need the income longer. Opponents of chained CPI also argue that the concept is ridiculous when talking about the elderly or disabled whose major expenses are housing and medical care, neither of which can be substituted easily.
So after complaining bitterly in statements following Obama's budget release, progressive Democrats, labor leaders and activists -- including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.), and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka -- took to the microphone Thursday to hammer a president most of them worked hard to elect.
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