NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

April 20, 2013

Shribman: Social security, 21st-century style

Can it be that the Democrats are succumbing to the same sorts of intra-party tensions that have bedeviled the Republicans since the November election?

Ordinarily it’s the party that loses an election that dissolves into factions, with party members hurling intemperate charges against their putative allies, calling into question their colleagues’ integrity and questioning their loyalty to long-standing party values. That’s why no one was surprised when the Republicans started throwing tea cups at each other after former Gov. Mitt Romney lost the presidential election.

But fighting among the victors? Seldom happens. They’re usually content to build a new administration, or to consolidate gains made after a president is re-elected.

Not this time, though. In the past 10 days, the Democrats have been at each other’s throats, and at the president’s, all over a concept that almost none of them can describe but many of them deplore.

That concept is the chained consumer price index for all urban consumers, which insiders call the C-CPI-U, not that that helps explain things. Also known as the chained CPI (there’s no end to the horrifying jargon in the entitlement world), it’s a different way to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments, essentially assuming that changes in prices produce changes in consumer behavior. It smooths out the peaks of consumer spending, the effect of which likely would be cuts in increases in Social Security checks by one quarter of 1 percentage point.

That’s the economics. The histrionics are quite different.

True to its definition, the histrionics in this case are indeed deliberate displays of emotion for effect. Cries of betrayal. Moans of despair. Plus this: Complete blindness to the peril that Social Security poses to the nation’s economy.

The fundamentals of Social Security, 21st-century style, are well known: too few people contributing funds to support too many people drawing benefits. The response of many Democrats to changes in Social Security is well known, too: Oppose it.

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