Let me preface this: I work as an advocate for person's with disabilities, primarily in getting them Social Security benefits. As such, Social Security law, and the programs associated with it, is pretty much my life 40-80 hours per week.
That said, the hyperbole surrounding the chained-CPI debate is probably about as misinformed as a Teabagger convention. So, because I love talking about this stuff so much, I thought I'd chip in with a few facts to break-up the monotony of liberals trying to out-liberal liberals by hating Obama as much (if not more) than Rand Paul & Ted Cruz combined. Really, it's like listening to an echo chamber playing the Left's version of Rush Limbaugh on repeat -- just ignorance followed by anger followed by pathetic self-hating progressives. And when progressives start eating our young, our very own, that's when we start to lose the national debate. That's when we lose elections and look like every bad thing Marco Rubio ever said about us (when he wasn't pausing to take a drink of water).
But enough about that mess, let's get to the point...
What is chained-CPI?
The chained CPI (or chained consumer price index) is an alternative inflation measure that calculates the rise of inflation, as well as the cost of goods, differently than the CPI-W (or consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers) or CPI-U (or consumer price index for all urban consumers). Specifically, chained CPI presumes that when the cost of goods rise with inflation, people will buy cheaper products in the same industry.
So, for instance, if the cost of an orange rises by 25 cents per pound, the chained CPI presumes that consumers will go buy apples instead; or they will go buy cheaper oranges; or they'll buy vegetables. Etc etc.
Another example: presume prescription drug prices begin to rise for a particular drug. The chained CPI presumes that recipients will go buy the cheaper generic brand, use an alternative brand-name, or use a different treatment method.
Of course, currently Social Security uses the CPI-W to calculate cost of living adjustments (COLA) with respect to the payment of benefits for all programs administered by Social Security, including retirement, disability, and supplemental security income (SSI, colloquially termed as welfare).
Many would advocate that this current method is still not effective at calculating benefits for Social Security benefits recipients, pointing to the CPI-E (or experimental price index for the elderly), which advocates state more accurately reflects the spending habits of people receiving these benefits.
Now, the important thing to keep in mind here is that all of these measurements only do one thing: they calculate how benefits grow compared to the COLA. They do not cut benefits. I repeat, they do not cut benefits. They only calculate how benefits grow.
It is this specific issue which I feel people have frequently failed to properly define. People are screaming, frothing at the mouth, saying that Obama wants to cut Social Security, he wants to cut my retirement, my disability, my welfare benefits! This is false. Nobody's is getting cuts to their benefits. What you get in 2013, you'll still get in 2014, and in 2015, and yes, even in 2016. If you got $800 per month last year, you'll still get (at least) $800 per month this year.
While I personally disagree with the use of the chained CPI (I prefer the CPI-E), I feel it is important to highlight the reality here. Many agree that the CPI-W is a crappy way to calculate benefits. It presumes that people will always buy the same thing, or that their expenses will be budgeted out for certain things like the average American. But people collecting retirement or disability spend overwhelmingly on medical expenses... not apples, oranges, or different cuts of meat. As such, their benefits need to increase at rate that accounts for this disparity between them and the rest of the country.
But it's not a cut. It is not even close to a cut. Elizabeth Warren may be awesome, but she's dead wrong about that point, most definitely.
It's also definitely not a bad idea to use the chained CPI, necessarily. The savings to Social Security would definitely extend the period in which it can pay 100% of benefits to recipients. Currently Social Security is due to cut people's benefits in 2033; in 2021 payments to recipients will exceed income to the fund. Moreover, with the Baby Boomers set to retire, the number of recipients is set to go through the roof. And due to the rising cost of healthcare in this country, coupled with the growing number of people who can't afford it and therefore end up disabled, lots of people are moving to Medicare and Medicaid (or Medical), further burdening a system that simply was not designed for this kind of stress. Hence why it needs to be reformed to remain the strong safety net it has always been for seniors, the disabled, and, well, everybody.
Conversely, the differences between the chained CPI and CPI-W are becoming more marginal everyday. While this would offset savings to the trust fund, it would also offset stagnated growth of benefits to recipients. We don't know how the economy will swing and, therefore, how this will change benefit growth over the future. But it does illustrate one thing: there's a lot more complexity to this than people are being given. Indeed, this issue is more complex than the people railing across the Democratic caucus have shown themselves even capable of understanding.
If I may suggest, a good place to start on learning about Social Security would be: here, and here, also here, and finally here. You can ask me anything, I'll do my best to give you an expert answer. This is, after all, part of my career.
Author's note: this post is in response to the radical response precipitated by the radical fringe of the party who have misinformed the ignorant about an important issue in securing a balanced budget proposal with the other half of the country, who, while complete scumbags, are nonetheless part of the government we have to work with. The chained CPI is a healthy compromise that pushes us forward rather than backward. It begins an important, and very necessary, process of reforming Social Security while simultaneously securing our political goals of getting a better, fairer, balanced budget for the country. Take it as you will, but I'm just saying.
Addendum: It appears many of the vocal commenters have been having trouble reading for comprehension and/or trying to engage in an actual dialogue. Let me point out: this is why I wrote this diary. Precisely because so many people are more angry than informed, more upset than rational, and generally unwilling to even try to understand what's going on so they can make the choice that's right for them.
I'll repeat: chained CPI is not a cut. You got $800 per month in benefits this year? You'll get that next year as well. As for the commenters suggesting I work for Obama, or I'm affiliated with the GOP, well, I'm neither. I'm a lifelong Democrat, who occasionally votes Green, and who hates the radicals on both side. Though the conservative radicals are generally worse, in my opinion.
I don't mind argument, but I am disappointed that so many are unable to actually talk about this issue -- they'd rather froth at the mouth, as I mentioned above. But for those who provided constructive comments (and you know who you are, because I believe I said so) thanks for your input! Regardless of what people may say, I'm at least glad I had an impact on the discussion. I mean, isn't that the point of websites like this? I hope so.