U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today sent a letter to Senators Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), leaders of the bipartisan Gang of Six which has been tasked with developing a long term solution to the nation's debt and deficit, expressing her strong opposition to the proposed "Chained CPI" to calculate Social Security cost of living adjustments (COLAs) that would immediately decrease benefits to seniors.
"[P]roposals to change the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits will seriously harm America's seniors and America's middle class.
[C]uts of this magnitude mean the difference between paying for medicine or groceries and heating," Senator Mikulski wrote. "The only way we will get out of this mess is through sensible, bipartisan solutions to balance the budget. But we must not weaken the financial security of our seniors or let them slip into poverty."
Since 1975, Social Security benefits have been automatically increased when prices rise so that seniors will have the same purchasing power with their benefits year after year. These adjustments help keep Social Security a guaranteed, lifetime and inflation-proof benefit. But several of the proposals for reducing the deficit that have been released include plans to change the way benefit increases are calculated so that benefits will fall further and further behind as prices rise each year.
She reiterated these concerns to the Super Committee with the support of Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in a letter available here.
"Congress cannot restructure Social Security in a way that will send middle-class Americans into poverty. We will not be complicit or compliant in jeopardizing this benefit for America's seniors," Senator Mikulski wrote.
She also introduced the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), legislation which would change the annual COLA formula from Social Security to more accurately reflect the expenses of seniors.
See the full text of the letter below:
October 23, 2012
Senator Mark R. Warner
475 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Senator Saxby Chambliss
416 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senators Warner and Chambliss,
I respect your efforts to work toward a bipartisan compromise to create a frugal government. However, proposals to change the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits will seriously harm America's seniors and America's middle class.
The proposal to switch the cost-of-living measurement for Social Security benefits to a "Chained CPI" has been described as a technical fix that doesn't mean a whole lot for seniors. But a single woman on Social Security under the Chained CPI, could lose as much as $6,000 from the time she's 65 to the time she's 80. She could lose $15,000 in benefits by age 90. And she would lose almost $20,000 if she should live to 95. That's the consequence of an insufficient COLA that gets worse each year. When the average senior is getting $14,000 per year in Social Security benefits, cuts of this magnitude mean the difference between paying for medicine or groceries and heating.
Also adopting Chained CPI as our new measurement of inflation could have wide ranging impacts on many federal programs including VA benefits, military and civilian retirement, and even the tax code. There has not been nearly enough debate or discussion in Congress to adopt such a change at this time, and it could seriously jeopardize a bipartisan agreement.
The only way we will get out of this mess is through sensible, bipartisan solutions to balance the budget. But we must not weaken the financial security of our seniors or let them slip into poverty. I look forward to continuing to work together on this important issue.
Barbara A. Mikulski
United States Senator