WASHINGTON -- Seventy-three years ago to the day, Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vt., was issued the first Social Security check.
"It wasn't that I expected anything, mind you, but I knew I'd been paying for something called Social Security and I wanted to ask the people in Rutland about it," Fuller said of her trip to the nearby Social Security office a few months earlier, according to the Social Security Administration.
On Jan. 31, 1940, the office issued Fuller a check for $22.54.
To commemorate the anniversary of that first check, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), flanked by a coalition of social insurance advocates, denounced Social Security's haters during a Thursday press conference at the Capitol.
"They told us that Social Security would go broke, that it could not possibly succeed," Sanders said. "These critics were wrong 73 years ago, and they are wrong today."
Since its creation, Social Security has vastly reduced poverty among the elderly. But with the program facing a funding shortfall in 2033, many Republicans and Democrats agree that benefits should be reduced now to avoid steeper cuts later.
Among policymakers, it seems the most popular proposal is to change the way the government measures inflation so that Social Security's future cost-of-living adjustments will be smaller.
Since 1975, Social Security benefits have been adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. This year the CPI-W gave beneficiaries a 1.7 percent increase. An alternate measure of inflation, known as the chained CPI, would produce less generous adjustments and thereby reduce Social Security spending by more than $100 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
(A completely different way to prevent the future shortfall in Social Security funding -- a way that is seldom discussed in budget negotiations -- would be to lift the cap on wages subject to Social Security taxes. Currently, only the first $113,700 of an individual's annual income is taxed.)
Fans of the chained CPI solution have described it as a "minor tweak," but the cumulative effect could be major, especially for older retirees. Sanders said the chained CPI would cost seniors who retire at age 65 more than $650 per year, and more than $1,000 a year by age 85.
"Now that may be a minor tweak if you spend 600 bucks with lobbyists going to lunch here on Capitol Hill," Sanders said Thursday. "But if you're living on $15,000 a year, the loss of $650 is not a minor tweak."
The average Social Security retirement benefit is $1,215 per month, or less than $15,000 a year.
During budget negotiations at the end of 2012, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) both indicated a willingness to switch to the chained CPI. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at the time that she didn't consider use of the chained CPI a benefit cut. On Thursday, Sanders and Whitehouse lamented the tendency of Democrats to support the proposal.
"We basically have had Social Security off the table when it comes to these spending cuts, and yet sometimes people on our side keep putting Social Security back on the table," Whitehouse said.
While nobody in congressional budget negotiations has been publicly advocating for the chained CPI in recent days, Sanders said he suspects they're working on it.
"They're working on it as we speak," he said.