Grijalva: Obama Social Security Proposal Puts Democrats in “Tenuous” Position

Calling himself “disappointed,” Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said Friday that the inclusion of Social Security benefit cuts in the President’s FY2014 budget - in the form of a new calculation of the annual cost of living adjustment - will put him and his fellow House Democrats in a very difficult position between now and the 2014 midterm elections.

"107 of us wrote a public letter" stressing opposition to any changes to Social Security benefits, Grijalva said from back in his district in Arizona.  With the addition of "chained CPI," a measure of inflation that will result in lower annual adjustments for beneficiaries and smaller payouts over time, those House Democrats have a decision to make. "Do they hold their public position, or do they concede the point and back the President?"

The White House claims that the President would only assent to chained CPI if Republicans agree to more tax increases, about $600 billion in all over 10 years. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) already came out today and said that benefit cuts to Social Security and additional means-testing of Medicare should not be “held hostage” to tax hikes.

"Whether it makes sense to show Republicans as unreasonable, I don’t play chess, so I don’t know," said Grijalva. "In terms of checkers, this is not a what-if, it’s written down and a commitment. Now we’ll be badgered by Republicans saying, ‘your President wants it.’" This will weigh on Democrats at a time when they need public support to take back the House of Representatives in 2014, putting them through what Grijalva described as "agony."

Cutting against that will be the reaction from the public, particularly senior citizens. “We open our (district office) at 8am,” he said. “We had the first recorded call at 6:30.”

Grijalva personally said that chained CPI or any weakening of the retirement safety net through Social Security was a non-starter for him, at a time when private savings have been ravaged by retirement and defined-benefit pensions are vanishing. But he’s not so sure that the other members who signed that letter in opposition will end up in the same place. In the event of a grand bargain where the Administration picks off some select Republicans, they would need almost unanimous approval from Democrats to pass anything. That gives progressive Democrats some say in the debate, but also would likely put them under pressure from the leader of their own party.

"I’ve seen this movie before," he said. "The Administration put intense pressure on members during the health care reform debate, that’s how the public option faded." 

Even if this was just an example of the Administration’s willingness to compromise with a grand gesture - and Republican unwillingness - it still could prove difficult for Democrats wanting to support the New Deal program to break with the President and swim against a tide of billionaire money all calling for social insurance cuts. “Now we have to fight on two fronts instead of one,” Grijalva concluded.