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Democrats Press for Social Security Boost

Next year, for the second year in a row, America’s seniors won’t be getting any bigger checks from Social Security.

Last week, the Social Security Administration announced that the cost of living had not risen, with inflation low due to the sluggish economy. (The consumer price index, the measure used to determine cost-of-living-increases, takes into account the pricetag on things like food, housing, medicine and services, like haircuts.) Therefore, benefits will not automatically increase for the 58 million seniors enrolled in the program. Because cost of living did not increase in 2009 either, benefits have held at 2008 levels.

The Social Security Administration noted that the government won’t let seniors get hit by rising Medicare costs, given that prices for medical goods and services have tended to leapfrog other prices: “Should there be an increase in the Medicare Part B premium, the [Social Security] law contains a ‘hold harmless’ provision that protects more than 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries from paying a higher Part B premium, in order to avoid reducing their net Social Security benefit.”

But Democrats are hitting back. This morning, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, said he will try to introduce a bill granting additional funds to Social Security recipients during the lame duck session.

“Millions of seniors rely on Social Security to make ends meet, especially in today’s troubled economy,” he said in a statement. “While the Social Security Administration has announced that no COLA will be provided next year, it’s a decision I don’t agree with. Too many seniors are struggling to pay rising costs for basic necessities, even while their retirement savings and home values have taken real hits. Earlier this year I voted to provide seniors a $250 Social Security raise. While Republicans blocked our efforts to help seniors the last time, we cannot give up. That is why when the Senate reconvenes, we will give seniors in Nevada and across the country this badly-needed raise.”

The statement comes after White House and House leaders called for Congress to provide additional payments. Last week, Robert Gibbs said the President supports a $250 “economic recovery payment” for seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. And Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed for the relevant legislation.

Increasing Social Security is popular. But it won’t be an easy thing to do — particularly not in the Senate. First of all, a $250 bump would cost something like $14 billion, and Republicans would demand offsets. Second, the calendar is awfully crowded during the session, with an unemployment insurance extension, a tax proposal and numerous other contentious issues needing a vote.

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