Rally decries Social Security benefit cuts

By:  By Tim Johnson

Burlington Free Press Masthead

It was a spirited demonstration over an arcane issue that drew a small audience to an incongruous place, but it had a certain Vermont-style gravitas about it: Both of the state’s U.S. senators showed up to voice their support.

The issue was President Barack Obama’s proposal to adopt a new way to calculate annual cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits. His proposed standard is called the “chained CPI.”

CPI stands for Consumer Price Index, which can be calculated from assorted consumer-goods prices in various ways to track inflationary increases. Use of the chained CPI would lead to lower benefit increases year by year than the the current CPI formula used by the Social Security Administration.

The rally, in front of City Hall, was organized by the Vermont chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans, and it featured 16 supporters standing on Church Street holding a paper chain that nearly spanned the length of the building. This spectacle was billed as a human chain to protest the chained CPI. Implementation of the chained CPI will depend on action by Congress and Obama, but the Vermont demonstrators won’t have to worry about persuading the Vermont delegation, all three of whom have come out against the proposal.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who did not attend Tuesday, signaled his position several months ago when he signed a letter to Obama with 106 fellow House members who are “deeply opposed” to using the chained CPI for Social Security benefits.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who spoke to the small crowd first from the City Hall balcony Tuesday, pronounced himself “on your side on this.” He said some of his congressional colleagues are willing to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while neglecting “the people who built this country here.” And he lauded the man standing next to him, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for his leadership in protecting Social Security.

Sanders stressed that Social Security doesn’t figure into the national deficit and “is not going broke,” with a large enough surplus to pay eligible beneficiaries for the next 20 years. The way to shore up Social Security’s long-term finances, Sanders said, was to eliminate the $250,000 cap on income subject to payroll taxes. “Scrap the cap!” chanted some of the onlookers.

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