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Don’t Forget What Happened When Obama First Proposed Chained CPI

Most media coverage of the President’s decision not to include the “chained CPI” for cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security and other retirement programs in his 2015 budget has left out a key point to understanding the announcement.

When the President was preparing his 2014 budget early last year, Republican leaders strongly urged him to include the chained CPI, and he did.  But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan then failed to put the proposal in his budget, which included no Social Security savings (and fewer Medicare savings over ten years than the Obama budget).

More importantly, Representative Greg Walden, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called the President’s chained CPI proposal “a shocking attack on seniors,” attacked the President for “trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors,” and signaled that Republican challengers in 2014 would attack Democratic incumbents over it.  He and other Republicans also noted that their budget — the Ryan budget — did not include the proposal.

To be sure, House Speaker John Boehner distanced himself from Walden’s remarks.  But the message was clear: after urging the President to include the chained CPI in his budget, Republicans left it out of theirs, and various Republican challengers were likely to use it to portray Democrats as seeking to cut Social Security (and themselves as the defenders of Social Security beneficiaries).

Coming on top of the Ryan budget, the Walden statement had a toxic impact on congressional Democrats.  That combination may have been one of the most important political developments that ultimately brought us to the Administration’s announcement.