Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and freshman Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) announced Wednesday that they are drawing a "line in the sand" with President Barack Obama on cuts to social programs and possible deals to end the sequester. Grayson said that certain cuts are unconscionable and that progressives must rally against the Republican Party's "unquenchable thirst to hurt the needy" and urge the president not to make cuts to programs that will disproportionately hurt the poor, the sick and the elderly.
Grayson and Takano have written a letter to the president stating that they will staunchly oppose any cuts to benefits in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security "including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need." The congressmen hope that other Democrats and members of the House Progressive caucus will sign the letter as well.
On a Wednesday afternoon conference call with Bold Progressives announcing the letter, Grayson and Takano were joined by the National Organization for Women's President Terry O'Neill, who also called upon legislators to make it clear that they oppose cuts to the social safety net.
O'Neill said, "Women are far more likely to be entirely reliant on Social Security for their monthly income because they work a lifetime at unequal pay." Two thirds of minimum wage workers are women, she said, and minimum wage jobs are far less likely to have health benefits or retirement programs.
Grayson said that by cutting benefits in programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, conservatives are "cheating old people, cheating sick people and cheating poor people."
"It used to be that there was consensus on this," he continued. "It used to be that Democrats and Republicans agreed that there should not be cuts in benefits to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. People used to call Social Security the third rail of American politics. But now, Republicans are not only touching the third rail, they're dancing on it."
He said that he doesn't doubt that there are many moderate Republicans, particularly seniors, who are baffled by the GOP's "unquenchable thirst to hurt the needy, to hurt seniors, to hurt people who need medical care and just want to see a doctor when they're sick."
Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) joined the call to explain that the "chained Consumer Price Index" or "chained CPI," which has been offerred as a possible remedy or compromise in the Social Security Standoff is in fact a red herring. The chained CPI is a re-figuring of how costs of living are expected to increase through inflation. The chained CPI is based on the idea that when faced with less financial resources, consumers will simply substitute other, cheaper items in their spending.
CEPR research found that reconciling costs via the chained CPI actually fails to take into account findings by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which indicate the seniors are far from typical consumers, needing more money for housing and health care than younger people. For many of the main costs faced by elder consumers, like medications, doctor's visits and energy costs, lower-cost substitutes are simply not available.
"The people who want to claim that chained CPI is more accurate," said Baker, "are either being dishonest, or they simply don't know the research."
Takano said that he joined the effort to halt cuts in benefits to the elderly, poor and sick because, "I believe in keeping the promises that we as a society have made." Cuts in the social safety net would be breaking a promise to the elderly, particularly after they have spent their working lives paying into the Social Security system.
The letter that he and Grayson are asking lawmakers to sign, Takano said, "is far from extreme. It's a common sense position that we protect our seniors and the we honor the promise that we made to them."