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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