Rick Santorum at CPAC

Humberto Sanchez
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Humberto Sanchez
March 7, 2014, 10:58 a.m.

The Com­mit­tee For a Re­spons­ible Fed­er­al Budget urged Con­gress to re­frain from provid­ing aid to seni­ors after the So­cial Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it would not provide an an­nu­al cost-of-liv­ing in­crease in be­ne­fits for the second year in a row.

“This is an is­sue ripe for polit­ic­al pan­der­ing—and there is sure to be plenty of that—but the truth is, seni­ors don’t need a raise based on in­fla­tion this year be­cause in­fla­tion has been so low,” said CFRB Pres­id­ent Maya MacGuineas. So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fi­ciar­ies “ac­tu­ally got an ar­ti­fi­cially high raise last time around, so they are faring bet­ter than many oth­ers in this eco­nomy who haven’t be­nefited from gen­er­ous raises.”

In 2009, the last time there was a COLA, be­ne­fi­ciar­ies re­ceived a 5.8-per­cent in­crease based on data from the third quarter of 2008, which showed high levels of in­fla­tion due largely to high en­ergy prices in the sum­mer of 2008. The boost was the largest in 27 years.

But MacGuineas ar­gued that prices fell drastic­ally in late 2008 and 2009 as a res­ult of fall­ing en­ergy prices and the eco­nom­ic down­turn. Even though prices in­creased slightly this year, she said, they have not re­turned to the levels reached in the third quarter of 2008, which they would have to ex­ceed to war­rant a new COLA. She con­ten­ded that be­cause of the high ad­just­ment, seni­ors are still re­ceiv­ing more be­ne­fits than ac­tu­al in­fla­tion in­creases have war­ran­ted.

“This is­sue can be seen as a lit­mus test for fisc­al re­spons­ib­il­ity. Let’s hope politi­cians prove more com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing the na­tion’s fisc­al chal­lenges than to pan­der­ing to in­flu­en­tial voters,” MacGuineas said.

Her as­sess­ment comes as the White House said today that Pres­id­ent Obama in­tends to re­new his call for a $250 one-time pay­ment to seni­ors, vet­er­ans, and the dis­abled. House Speak­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., said on Thursday that she plans to bring le­gis­la­tion to the floor next month that would provide the pay­ment. But pro­spects in the Sen­ate, where sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion stalled earli­er this year, are less cer­tain.

Sup­port for the bill is also grow­ing on the cam­paign stump as Demo­crats in tough races pledge to provide the aid to seni­or cit­izens, a key con­stitu­ency.

“We can’t put this on the back burn­er just be­cause party lead­ers and Wash­ing­ton in­siders want to talk about the elec­tion,” Rep. John Boc­ci­eri, D-Ohio, said today. “Seni­ors want to talk about the fact that they have to cut pills and make sac­ri­fices be­cause costs are rising.”

Re­pub­lic­ans, however, sug­ges­ted that Demo­crats’ fo­cus on the is­sue had more to do with the midterm elec­tion than with help­ing seni­ors.

“If this is really a pri­or­ity for the pres­id­ent and Wash­ing­ton Demo­crats, why didn’t [Pelosi] bring it up for a vote be­fore she ad­journed the House?” asked Mi­chael Steel, the spokes­man for House Minor­ity Lead­er John Boehner, R-Ohio.

He ad­ded, “It’s clear that they care more about cam­paign­ing to keep their jobs than Amer­ica’s seni­ors.”

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