Seniors and disabled Americans looking forward to the annual increase in their Social Security check will be disappointed this year. Officials with the Social Security Administration have informed aides in Congress that the decision will be announced on October 15, just two weeks before the election, according to staffers and people familiar with the SSA's plan.
The SSA is waiting for the September Consumer Price Index to be reported, which is why they must wait until next Friday to make the announcement, the day that the Labor Department releases its CPI numbers. The CPI would have to show a remarkable uptick in price to effect the SSA's decision not to provide the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) which, by statute, is based on the rate of inflation. (If there is no measurable increase in the cost of living, then there is no adjustment, a rationale that unsurprisingly placates roughly zero beneficiaries.)
Social Security recipients eagerly anticipate the annual increase. Touching a senior's COLA is a political third rail. Florida GOP challenger Dan Webster found that out the hard way when he suggested the federal government "take back some of the COLAs for the entitlement programs." Under withering fire from the elderly, he quickly backed off the suggestion, saying that he meant his comments to apply to federal workers -- who, of course, are not paid by "entitlement programs."
The backtracking largely got him out of the jam, but Democrats will be in their own fix when the announcement is made public. The COLA announcement will come as little surprise, since inflation has remained relatively low all year as a result of Federal Reserve efforts.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee with jurisdiction over Social Security, introduced a bill earlier this year, H.R.5987, to make up the difference by providing beneficiaries with a $250 increase. The bill has 127 cosponsors. All of them are Democrats. (Publicly released polls have Pomeroy trailing, but they were conducted by the GOP-leaning Rassmussen. Pomeroy spokesman Brenden Timpe provided an internal poll conducted in early September showing Pomeroy up two points; two previous internal polls also showed him up.)
"Americans work their entire lives to earn Social Security," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in support of the bill when it was introduced. "During this time of hardship in our economy, the Seniors Protection Act ensures that we uphold our bedrock promise of economic security for our nation's seniors and retirees."
An aide to the Ways and Means Committee said that discussions of holding a vote on the $250 increase during the lame-duck session are ongoing.
Pomeroy said he'd fight for a vote. "The modest monthly Social Security benefits are the largest source of income for the majority of seniors. To go a second year with no cost of living adjustment means added struggles for these seniors in meeting day-to-day expenses. I am committed to getting seniors the help that they need by making sure that the House passes my Senior Protection Act," he said in a statement to HuffPost.
"Our legislation is fiscally responsible - it will be fully paid for, not adding a dime to the deficit - and it deserves bipartisan support from all Members of Congress," said Pelosi.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) continues to support providing a supplementary benefit to seniors, says a Senate Democratic leadership aide. He voted for the proposal when it was offered by Senator Sanders as an amendment earlier this year.
He'll be working with the Caucus and those on the other side of the aisle to get the support needed for the proposal in the lame duck session.
While the public announcement will be made next Friday, Democrats will benefit from an ensuing delay: Beneficiaries won't get the bad news in the mail until after Election Day.