It seems it was only a month ago that the debate was not over whether to inflict more misery on the old, the disabled, widows, orphans and veterans, but over how much pain to dish out. A Senate bill turning the whole fraudulent deficit scold argument inside out had been moldering in obscurity since last spring. But Iowan Tom Harkin's plan, called the Strengthening Social Security Act, has suddenly started picking up sponsors. Maybe the Democrats are realizing that Obama's centrist coat-tails are getting a tad frayed, given the plummet in his approval rating down into that magical minus-40 territory. They're probably afraid for their own re-election chances if they go on record impoverishing the poor even more than they have already. Maybe they've noticed that a left-of-center upstart crashed the preapproved-by-Wall Street gates and just won the New York City mayoralty in a landslide. Maybe they're catching a whiff of the smoke from the peasant torches, finally hearing those faint faraway cries of anguish coming nearer and nearer to the Washington bubble-dome.
Politicians never do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts. They do the right thing out of fear. A bottom-up earthquake is starting to tickle them in their Birkenstocks. A zephyr from the left
is starting to ruffle their coiffures.
Harkin's bill, now co-sponsored by Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Mark Begich of Alaska, would do three things to strengthen Social Security:
Strengthen Benefits by Reforming the Social Security Benefit Formula: To improve benefits for current and future Social Security beneficiaries, the Act changes the method by which the Social Security Administration calculates Social Security benefits. This change will boost benefits for all Social Security beneficiaries by approximately $70 per month, but is targeted to help those in the low and middle of the income distribution, for whom Social Security has become an ever greater share of their retirement income.
Ensure that Cost of Living Adjustments Adequately Reflect the Living Expenses of Retirees: The Act changes the way the Social Security Administration calculates the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA). To ensure that benefits better reflect cost increases facing seniors, future COLAs will be based on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). Making this change to Social Security is expected to result in higher COLAs, ensuring that seniors are able to better keep up with the rising costs of essential items, like health care.
Improve the Long Term Financial Condition of the Trust Fund: Social Security is not in crisis, but does face a long-term deficit. To help extend the life of the trust fund the Act phases out the current taxable cap of $113,700 so that payroll taxes apply fairly to every dollar of wages.There have always been Democrats feebly "fighting back" against Chained CPI -- simply defending the status quo. For example, last spring some House progressives penned yet another mealy-mouthed letter to Obama, politely asking him to cease and desist. They made no demands of their own. They only asked that impoverished seniors not be forced to eat cat food. They didn't have the chutzpah to actually demand that the living standards of retirees be improved. Until now.
So, what could be next? The Democratic sponsors of Medicare for All having the chutzpah to speak up for their own legislation instead of half-heartedly defending Obamacare? Liberals administering a litmus test, threatening to withhold their donations and votes unless their Democratic reps make a severe left turn away from the big money of their big corporate austerian donors?
Anything's possible in a world where another big city mayor is publicly complaining that he can't remember smoking crack because he was in an alcoholic stupor at the time.