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How to defend (or not) a vote against cutting checks for senior citizens

Social Security, COLA, Congress Republicans blocked proposals in the House and Senate on Wednesday to send $250 checks to Social Security recipients. That was the right, if not necessarily popular, thing to do. With Congress setting benefits to go up (but never down) in line with changes in the Consumer Price Index, it's hard to justify giving beneficiaries more money when there's no increase in the CPI -- even when there's been no change in the CPI, and no automatic increase in benefits, for two years in a row.

Complaints to the contrary invariably contend that the benefits are too low or that the formula understates medical costs. The answer to such problems is to raise the minimum benefit or tweak the formula, not to cut more checks.

Having said that, I have to add that the rationale cited by the GOP doesn't pass the laugh test. From Michael Memoli's piece in The Times:

"While many seniors are hurting, so too are American working families. Increasing our nation's crushing deficit on the backs of our children by an additional $14 billion is wrong," said Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas). 

In other words, it's OK to add more than $4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade by cutting taxes, including $700 billion in cuts for the wealthiest Americans and $250 billion for the heirs of multimillion-dollar estates, but it's not OK to increase the deficit by $14 billion to help seniors make ends meet. Puh-leese!

Not that the Democrats' arguments for the increased benefits were much better. The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) saying, "I know it's the Christmas season.... You'd think there'd be a little more generosity in their hearts." That's a nonstarter; every dollar in spending is a dollar in taxes that will have to be paid. So it's not an issue of generosity; it's a question of smart economic policy.

And although it might be smart to boost demand by sending checks to people on low fixed incomes, the proposal being voted on Wednesday would have given $250 to every Social Security recipient, regardless of their financial status.


Isn't zero inflation a good thing for seniors?

Analyzing the Obama tax-cut compromise

Morphing the Bush-era tax cuts into economic stimulus?

-- Jon Healey

Credit: AP Photo / Bradley C Bower



Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Rodney Hytonen

The 'CPI formula' also ignores the startling (and crippling) fact that monthly Utility costs (at least in OUR retirement state of WV, BOTH gas heat AND electricity) have TRIPLED in the past three years.

And that's with "level billing" and no changes in annual usage.

Try supporting two people on less than $1000/month -ANYWHERE- and then tell me what's "right, if not necessarily popular."

Jon Healey

@Rodney -- Your problem is with the formula, something a one-time bonus won't fix. But it's worth noting that the last cost-of-living increase was unusually large because energy costs spiked, and benefits weren't reduced the following year even though fuel costs had gone down.

Steve M.

1. Social Security is supposed to be a supplemental to, not the solution for seniors in their "golden years."

2. I believe that the Democrats just took 1/2 Trillion Dollars to float Obummer-care, making people eligible for benefits, even though they haven't contributed towards it.

3. I kow about the Cost of Living Adjustment and even though the price of fuel dropped and is returning to new highs, other items, such as food and medical has risen, as well.

It's nice to hand out $250 checks, but where is the money coming from??? Where is the moeny coming from for people who choose to be on funemployment, for he next 13 months?

I work two jobs and am trying to raise a family. People have got to make their own way or rely on their families, NOT MINE!!!

Joel Wischkaemper

An excellent article. At 68, I live close to the vest and in that status, have watched old folks who would rather starve a bit then not give Christmas Gifts. And when you examine when all the laws of Social Security were written and with X premise, that $250 check would be so very nice. I am glad, and so are the old folks I live with, those checks are not going to be issued.

But lets get clear on a couple of things. Many of us old folks invested when we were young, and when the walls came tumbling down on that investment, what we became as a retired person was far, far different than what was planned. Looking back at George Bush's idea for us to invest in the Stock Market rather than get Social Security was grossly arrogant and wrong.

If you cannot see that now, you just won't see it at all.

But our leaders had better see it.

Social Security is not a device to supplement what you have in savings, it is the mainstay of a whole lot of Americans who have been destroyed by a system fools think should be left alone in its wonderfulness.



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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