Obama Aide Won’t Say Whether President Still Backs Social Security Tweak

A year after he backed it to entice Republicans to negotiate

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In last year’s budget, President Barack Obama raised the ire of liberal groups by proposing a technical change to the way Social Security benefits are calculated. A year later, an aide wouldn’t say if the measure, known as chained-CPI, will be in Obama’s forthcoming budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

Speaking with reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jason Furman was asked point-blank whether the president still supports using the alternative formula for calculating inflation to determine social security benefit increases. “You’re going to have to wait and just see what’s in the budget,” Furman said.

Obama aides said last year that the president only put forward the policy change—long advocated by Republicans—in a bid to entice the GOP to reach a broad-based fiscal deal. “It’s not the president’s preferred policy,” Jeff Zients, the then-acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said at the time. “He’s willing to do it as part of the comprehensive $1.8 trillion deal that puts us on a sustainable path, gets us out of this pattern of manufactured crisis after manufactured crisis.  So the condition for CPI is that it’s part of a balanced, comprehensive package.”

Both parties admit that the prospects for any comprehensive agreement in an election year are grim, and dropping the proposal would have a political upside by shoring up the Democrats’ liberal base—which is calling for expanding social security benefits, rather than cutting them—before the midterms.

The Obama administration estimated last year that the inflation change alone would cut the deficit by $230 billion over a decade.