Today's news that seniors will not get a cost-of-living raise in their Social Security payments in 2011 will pose an interesting challenge for the Tea Party Republicans.
It is a test of sincerity vs. greed that I suspect the Right will fail.
The TPR types are outraged about government spending and debt, right? Several of their anointed candidates have called for the abolishment of expensive big government programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance. And so they should be celebrating the fact that, for the second year in a row, inflation has been mastered, and a multi-million-dollar COLA payment avoided.
Yet somehow I suspect that this weekend we'll start seeing the E-mail chain letters, whipping up the codgers and blaming the Democrats in Congress for short-changing seniors. That is what happened last year.
For the fact-based among you, here is what has occurred. Soaring energy prices in 2008 produced a whopping 5.8 percent COLA hike in 2009—the largest in 27 years. Then energy prices and other costs plummeted in the recession. Inflation was kept in check by the tough economic times. The government didn't ask Social Security recipients to pay the money back, or to take a cut last year. It simply didn't add another COLA.
Some conservative analysts have been honest about this. "Seniors aren't being treated unfairly here," Andrew Biggs, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told the New York Times. In 2009 "they received a nearly 6 percent COLA for inflation that no longer really existed."
Those bleeding-heart Democrats in Congress, concerned about the many folks for whom Social Security is the only or main retirement income (and worried about the political effects of the no-COLA announcement) have declared that they hope to return in November and approve a $250 payment to Social Security recipients. I would be all for it, if it is means tested and not paid to rich folks who don't need it.
But somehow I suspect that this won't be enough and that the Democrats will be blamed in the next three weeks for screwing seniors out of their COLA.
What say you, TPR retirees? Will you be true to your principles? Or to greed?