Rob Horowitz: RI’s Congressional Delegation—Afraid of the Elderly

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


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It was disappointing to see the quick, strong and unanimous opposition of the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation to President Obama’s proposal--included in his budget released last week-- to provide a small reduction in Social Security cost-of-living increases by using a more restrictive method of calculating inflation called chained CPI. In a state with one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the nation, the unanimity on this issue among the four Democrats that represent us in Washington is understandable and there are certainly substantive arguments against this specific way of reforming retiree entitlements.

But, the broader policy imperative for reforming retiree entitlement programs is driven by math—not ideology---and is inescapable. As Jonathan Cowan and Jim Kessler of Third Way note in a recent article, “During this decade and the next, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will jump by 75 percent while those of working age — the people who fund entitlements through their tax contributions — will nudge up by just 7 percent.” Without at least modest adjustments in retiree entitlement programs there will be no money left for critical investments in education, infrastructure and research and development; nor much prospect of solving the long-term debt problem.

President Obama had already demonstrated he was ready to act on this hard and politically difficult reality by agreeing to some retiree entitlement reforms, if coupled with revenue increases, in the fiscal cliff and debt limit negotiations with Congressional Republicans and by highlighting the need for retiree entitlement reforms in his most recent State of the Union Address Now, he has taken the important next step of putting specific retiree entitlement reforms in his fiscal 2014 budget proposal, including this new method of calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases estimated to save over $200 billion in the next ten years as well as Medicare savings generated by limiting payments to providers and some means testing estimated to save $400 billion over the same time period. As President Obama said upon releasing the budget, “Both parties, for example, agree that the rising cost of caring for an aging generation is the single biggest driver of our long-term deficits.”

President Obama has made an agreement on new revenue to be generated by closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy a condition of going forward with his proposed entitlement reforms. This form of so far elusive “Grand Bargain” is still the most sensible way to act on long-term debt reduction. It would also provide the added benefit of lifting sequestration—the across the board reductions in discretionary spending which are creating unnecessary hardships, impacting our defense capability and stalling a full economic recovery.

Sometimes leadership requires that elected officials tell the public hard truths and take actions that have significant political risks. President Obama has demonstrated this kind of leadership on the need for retiree entitlement reforms. It is time for our Congressional Delegation--while they may differ on some of the specifics--to step up to the plate and join him in this critically important educational, political and policy development task. On a topic that is so important to our nation’s future, it is simply not enough to just say no.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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