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

December 8, 2010 |  5:08 pm

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.

Related:

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

 

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