President Obama Reluctantly Embraces President Obama's Idea

Posted: Apr 05, 2013 6:56 PM

President Obama's budget proposal is due out next week. We've already got a relatively good idea of what he's going to propose - more spending, more taxes, maybe some hints of deficit reduction. It also looks like President Obama will propose a statistical adjustment to Social Security's adjustment formula - moving to the chained consumer price index (C-CPI) - that the Obama Administration has long portrayed as an important entitlement reform.

What is a C-CPI reform, exactly? It would peg Social Security cost-of-living adjustments to a different - and, economists say, more accurate - form of inflation. The practical effects of this are that there would be modest benefit cuts and modest tax increases over what's currently projected for Social Security. Over a ten-year period, the CBO projects, there would be a $127 billion spending cut to Social Security and a $123 billion dollar tax hike. Liberals dislike the C-CPI reform due to the spending cuts and conservatives dislike it because of the tax hikes.

A "senior administration official" told the Huffington Post that President Obama's plan is "not the President's ideal deficit-reduction plan" and characterizes the C-CPI proposal as a "key Republican request... not the President's preferred approach."

This is a dishonest framing at best. As the Washington Post reports, it has consistently been the Obama Administration pushing for a C-CPI reform to Social Security. This is from a WaPo report on December's fiscal cliff negotiations [emphasis mine]:

Liberal Democrats, too, were on edge about Obama’s offer on the inflation measure, known as the chained consumer price index, or chained CPI. Obama tentatively embraced the change in budget negotiations with Boehner in the summer of 2011.

And indeed, you can see reports of President Obama furiously pushing the idea. Joan McCarter at the Daily Kos wrote that "Obama pushes chained CPI in town hall meeting" back in August 2011.

If President Obama wanted to be actually honest, the way that C-CPI came into the national discussion in the last few years was via a "Gang of Six" deficit reduction plan in July 2011. This included Democrat Sens. Dick Durbin, Kent Conrad, and Mark Warner, and Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss, Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo. C-CPI is not a Republican proposal. At best, the Obama Administration could call it a compromise. But it's been the Obama Administration time and again pushing a C-CPI reform to Social Security. Liberal website Crooks and Liars even said that the GOP "rescued" them from C-CPI reform when it didn't go through last time. Liberal website AmericaBLOG also noted that Obama actually wants C-CPI reform - it's not a negotiating tactic.

It's true that John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell have had good things to say about C-CPI. But other Republican leaders like Marco Rubio and John McCain have detested the reform. It's simply not true that including a C-CPI reform is some kind of concession to Republicans.

Chained CPI is a proposal with various levels of support on the left and on the right. It's President Obama, however, who has been continuously pushing C-CPI, not Republicans.

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