Media reporting has focused on the teeter-totter — the strong pushback by Congressional Democrats against including chained CPI in the budget again (it was proposed in 2013) or the Republican leaders’ charges that leaving chained CPI out shows the president isn’t serious about safety-net program (entitlements) reforms. When one goes up, the other goes down. And vice versa.
Budget debates get messy because the economics get complicated. The politics — the jostling for space on the showroom floor — make budget issues even harder to explain, and to understand.
Still, the president had sound economic reasons not to switch to the chained CPI in his budget: It would hurt seniors and the disabled. He also had sound political reasons.
When Obama prepared his budget last year, Republican leaders pushed hard for him to include chained CPI. And he did. But then House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., left chained CPI out of his own Republican budget. He left out Social Security cost savings altogether, and had fewer Medicare savings over the following 10 years than the Obama budget.
More importantly, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (a campaign operation for House Republicans), savaged Obama for “trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors.” Walden called Obama’s chained CPI inclusion “a shocking attack on seniors,” and indicated Republicans would attack Democratic incumbents over it. He and other Republicans also showcased that their own (Ryan) budget failed to include chained CPI, the money-saver that slows the growth of benefits.
House Speaker John Boehner, of course, distanced himself from Walden’s remarks. But still, after pressuring Obama to include chained CPI in the budget, Republicans left it out of theirs. Republican challengers were bent on using Obama’s chained CPI to position themselves as defenders of Social Security beneficiaries. It was to be a major issue in 2014.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.