POLITICS
04/10/2013 11:07 pm ET | Updated Apr 11, 2013

WaPo Editors Super Excited About Chained CPI Cuts To Elderly Benefits, Giving GOP Political Cover

If President Barack Obama's budget offer is primarily an attempt to win over members of the Centrist Hack Pundit Community, and perhaps get them to train their fire on congressional Republican instransigence instead of constantly indulging in leadership surrealism, here's some good news: The Washington Post editorial board is on board. Sure, chained CPI does not nearly go far enough in depriving Social Security recipients of the money that helps stave off destitution, but it's a rollicking good start, apparently:

Though far from perfect, the budget President Obama released Wednesday represents the best hope for replacing sequestration with a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal before the federal government hits its statutory borrowing limit in late summer -- and before Congress gets paralyzed by the politics of the 2014 elections.

The editors, naturally, refer to the chained CPI cuts, as well as reductions to Medicare, as the "most important" parts of the deal. (More important even than sparing the country from "excessive domestic-spending cuts falling most heavily on those Americans least able to afford them." They are a little put out, however, that even as Obama offers these cuts to earned benefit programs, he doesn't seem to actually want it bad enough, in his heart of hearts: "Mr. Obama too often casts entitlement reform as a concession to extract Republican assent to higher taxes, rather than a worthy end in itself."

You know what I say: Obama has been trying to give the GOP these cuts for so long that you might as well accept the fact that they are, at bottom, something he is not at all reluctant to do. That said, if it's sometimes difficult to cast things like chained CPI as a worthy end in itself, well ... that's because it's not a worthy end in itself. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out:

Proponents of this proposal argue that the Chained CPI is a more accurate formula and any impact on beneficiaries of the government programs affected would be mitigated by increased tax revenue from the wealthy. However, this issue brief effectively refutes those arguments by showing that switching to the Chained CPI would result in cuts to already modest Social Security benefits, that it is likely that the Chained CPI is not an accurate measure of the inflation rate seen by seniors and that the Chained CPI would lead to income tax increases for working Americans.

The Washington Post editorial board members are among those arguing that chained CPI offers a more accurate formula. They need to get out more. Per the CEPR:

It is important to note that while some claim the Chained CPI more accurately calculates inflation, this is likely not the case for seniors, who would be directly affected by using the Chained CPI to calculate Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that seniors spend proportionally more of their income on medical care and housing, which in addition to rising more rapidly than most other costs, are also much harder to substitute with other products. This research suggests that a CPI based on living costs of the elderly would actually show a higher, not lower, rate of inflation. The BLS has constructed an experimental elderly index (CPI-E) that takes these factors into account, and it shows a rate of inflation that averages 0.3 percentage points higher than the CPI currently in use.

Trying to explain the policy situation to the Post's editors may be beyond human endurance at this point, but perhaps someone might try explaining the state of play in contemporary politics to them, just to see if it penetrates? Because we are still getting paragraphs like this:

Now the Republicans face a choice: Declare the president’s budget dead on arrival, as their partisan interest might suggest, or consider it an invitation to bargain and to govern, as the national interest requires.

First of all, the administration has already taken great pains to let it be known that there isn't an "invitation to bargain," here. The bargaining period is done. Per Brian Beutler, this is a "final gesture of good faith to Republicans in Congress."

Secondly, the GOP has already made it clear that this budget is "dead on arrival." Days ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) elucidated this, saying, "If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there's no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes." The Post's editors, like most of the Centrist Hack Pundit Community, do their best to adopt a "blame both sides" pose, but tonight, John Boehner is reading that "worthy end in itself" line in this editorial and is thinking, "Thanks for giving my side the political cover."

"In the here and now, however," write the Post's editors, "the question is how to get the most debt reduction possible, in the most constructive way, within existing political realities."

So there you have it. The Post has trained itself so well to blame Democrats and Republicans alike no matter what the reality that it has given cover to Boehner to destroy the thing that the Post wants to see happen more than anything in life. More than lax regulations on for-profit colleges. More than war in Iraq. More than people to all of a sudden start reading print again. More than anything. Real bunch of prize weirdos.

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