WASHINGTON -- Two House Republicans have told constituents they oppose proposed cuts to Social Security and veterans benefits by reducing the cost of living adjustment, according to letters they sent to constituents. President Barack Obama included the plan, known as chained CPI, in his annual budget, but specified that he was only offering it as a concession to entice Republicans into a compromise. For Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), however, the concession is itself objectionable.
When Obama offered the chained CPI proposal, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, charged with electing Republicans to the House, slammed it as "a shocking attack on seniors." In general, though, the response has been muted.
But the letters from Gingrey and Duffy underscore the difficulty that advocates of cutting Social Security face. The letters were sent to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) as part of his "Citizen Whip" project, through which he asks people across the country to write their member of Congress and forward him the reply. The specific question: "Are you for or against a cut in the cost of living increases for seniors and veterans who receive Social Security and veterans benefits?"
For months, Republicans demanded that Obama spell out specific cuts that he was willing to agree to, though they themselves wouldn't do the same, because specific cuts to government spending tend to be unpopular. And cuts to Social Security are about as unpopular as anything currently under discussion, according to a variety of surveys.
Duffy, who formerly starred on MTV's "The Real World," appears well aware of the program's popularity and repeatedly refers to cutting it as "the president's plan," though he leaves the door open to cuts for younger generations.
"President Obama, in his Fiscal Year 2014 Budget request, recently proposed changing how the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is calculated by the federal government," Duffy wrote to one constituent. "I strongly disagree with the President's plan to reduce Social Security benefit increases for current seniors. As your Congressman, I will fight to make sure there are no COLA reductions for current retirees. Today's seniors deserve the benefits they have rightfully earned and I will continue working on proposals that strengthen the program."
Gingrey also rejected the plan. "Many economists claim that the current CPI calculation overstates annual cost-of-living increases and leads to larger benefit increases than necessary to compensate for inflation. The chained CPI, however, would lead to an estimated 0.25 to 0.3% decrease in the COLA, thereby decreasing benefit increases for Social Security beneficiaries," he wrote. "While I agree that we need to find ways to trim the federal budget so we do not continue to run up unsustainable debts for our children and grandchildren, doing so by cutting Social Security benefits is not the correct approach. One of the reasons I decided to run for Congress was to protect Social Security for current retirees, as well as to fix the program so that future retirees can benefit from it as well. My commitment to protect Social Security, not only for today but for the future generations, has not waivered [sic]."
Gingrey spokeswoman Jen Talaber said the letter does not spell out opposition to chained CPI. He "remains committed to preserving Social Security for current and future beneficiaries," Talaber said. "Nowhere in his letter does he contradict himself or indicate opposition to chained CPI." Gingrey is running for Senate in a competitive primary in Georgia.
On Tuesday, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), also a candidate for Senate, came out against chained CPI, much as other Democrats running for Senate, including in red states, have done.
A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in December found that 16 percent of Americans said the proposal to switch to chained CPI was a good idea, while 54 percent said it was a bad idea. And the proposal was unpopular across the political spectrum, with 56 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents saying they thought the proposal was a bad idea.
Another December HuffPost/YouGov poll found that by a margin of 52 percent to 25 percent, a majority of Americans said proposals that would cut benefits for future beneficiaries should not even be considered as part of a budget deal.