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Chained CPI

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, there's a lot of talk in Washington, D.C., about something called chained CPI. A lot of people don't know what that means. We have assurances from the White House and the Republicans who originated this idea. It's an innocuous sort of little change to Social Security, veterans benefits, and other programs, because we overstate inflation in the CPI.

Actually, particularly for seniors, the reverse is true. The consumer price index, as measured, significantly understates inflation that impacts seniors because seniors have a different buying pattern than 20-year-olds. They're not out buying the latest iPhone. They're buying a lot of medical care, going up much faster than measured inflation, pharmaceuticals going up at phenomenal, obscene rates. Housing, energy, and all those things make up a bigger percentage of their budget in retirement.

For years, I have proposed legislation to accurately measure the cost of living for seniors, which actually would increase their annual cost-of-living adjustments. But now come the White House and the Republicans to say we're overstating inflation. Let's just use chained CPI, it doesn't matter, it's all about substitution. If they can't afford beef, they'll do chicken; if they can't do chicken, they'll do pasta; if they can't do pasta, they'll buy dog food; if they can't afford that, they'll starve. That's kind of the bottom line of these pointy-headed economists out there on how these sort of weird theories work.

Here's a graphic that demonstrates this a little better. This shows for a retired single woman, widowed or otherwise, how much food would be lost on an annual basis with chained CPI as it eats away at the annual adjustments and the things that she purchases go up faster and faster.

Each shopping cart represents a weekly food budget of $53. That's not exactly living high on the hog here. At 65, she loses 2 weeks of food. And a woman retiring at age 65 this year has a life expectancy of 20 years. That means at age 85, with this new device, the chained CPI, she would lose 16 weeks worth of her food budget. That's 16 weeks.

Everybody, as they get older, works through their savings and other means of support. And if you live too long, you're going to have a really hard time making ends meet. If we chain the CPI, it will get even harder for the next generation of seniors.

There's kind of a mixed message here. Republicans want to cut entitlements. They never supported Social Security and Medicare, but they just want to cut them to make sure they're there in the future. Well, If you chain the CPI, Social Security, which is supposed to have adequate benefits to pay full guaranteed benefits until 2033, would pick up 2 years. So we cut benefits for 100 percent of seniors retiring now and in the future, and Social Security would last 2 years longer. That doesn't exactly save Social Security, does it?

On the converse, with my plan, where we lift the cap so that people who earn a $1 million or $2 million or one of those hedge fund guys earning a billion dollars a year would pay Social Security tax on all of his or her income, we add 50 years to the life of Social Security. That's about as far as you can measure it into the future.

If they wanted to save Social Security, if that's what the White House is up to, if that's what the Republicans are up to, it's a much better way to do it without penalizing seniors. But that's not really what it's about. It's to take a program, Social Security, which is self-funding, doesn't draw on the general fund, doesn't create any deficit, it's to take money from Social Security and use it elsewhere to plug holes in our budget.

That's not right. It's the highest tax paid by many American workers to the Federal Government. Almost half of workers pay more in Social Security taxes, particularly the self-employed, than they do income taxes to the Federal Government. And if you earn over $112,000 a year, your tax rate goes down. If you get $1,200,000, your tax rate is one-tenth that of someone who earns $50,000 a year; $12 million, one one-hundredth; and those billionaires are paying less than 1 second's wages in Social Security taxes.

If you want to fix the program, lift the cap and make everybody pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security, but don't pretend by taking food out of the mouths of seniors in the future that you're fixing the problem for full funding of Social Security beyond 2033. You're not. That's a lie. Admit what you're doing. You want to cut benefits to seniors, to veterans and other working Americans with this chained CPI artifice.

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