Opinion: New Social Security Poll Shows Little Appetite for ‘Grand Bargain'

A new poll finds opposition to any change in the way Social Security benefits are calculated

Lurking in the background of the budget battles between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress in recent years has been this idea that if the two sides could come together on a “grand bargain” to lower taxes, reduce spending and cut entitlements, the country could be set on a permanent path to fiscal sanity.

From their side, Republicans have been saying that in order to cut the deficit and reduce government spending—both of which are already falling despite perceptions to the contrary—you have to reduce entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

For their part, Democrats, including President Obama, have said they would consider supporting cuts to programs like Social Security if it would lead to a more permanent deal on the budget. Key to this idea has been the notion of a “chained CPI”, or reducing the cost of living increases to Social Security tied to the Consumer Price Index.

But a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds passionate opposition to any change in the way Social Security benefits are calculated that could result in smaller annual raises:

The poll found that 62 percent of respondents expressed opposition to such a proposal, compared with 21 percent who supported it.

The chained CPI, or consumer price index, has been proposed as a new way of calculating the cost-of-living adjustment, but it would reduce raises.

“I really think it’s a sacred cow,” said Margie Nugent, a 55-year-old farmer from North Umberland, Pa. “They shouldn’t touch it.”

Yet, the poll found Americans showed “more willingness to support Social Security proposals that would mostly impact those with higher incomes.” Forty-one percent expressed support for reducing benefits for seniors with higher incomes, compared with 44 percent who opposed the proposal.

The reality is, that’s because Social Security simply works. A 2012 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed:

Social Security lifted 22 million people out of poverty in 2012 … [including] not just 15 million elderly Americans but also many younger people, including 1 million children who either received their own benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers or lived with relatives who received Social Security.

Without Social Security benefits, 44.4 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal.

Americans also understand that asking everybody to pay their fair share—including the wealthy, who are currently only taxed on the first $113,700 of their yearly income—is the real key to keeping Social Security solvent in years to come.

Meanwhile, the concept of Chained CPI would represent a real blow to millions of American’s chances to stay out of poverty in the future. Under chained CPI, someone retiring at age 65 would lose nearly $5,000 in Social Security benefits by age 75, $14,000 by age 85 and more than $28,000 if he or she lived to 95.

Time and again, politicians of both parties come after vital programs like Social Security in an effort to show their toughness in dealing with issues like government spending and the deficit.

And, time and time again, Americans tell them in one way or another that they’re simply not interested.

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