Black lawmakers oppose elements of the president's entitlement reforms.
Congressional Black Caucus members and their staffs are still combing through the details of President Obama's 2014 budget blueprint. At first glance, there are things they like, such as increased access to high-quality early education programs. And even though the budget calls for an increase in cigarette taxes to fund it, something Rep. G.K. Butterfield opposes, he says he gets it.
"Everybody's got to share in the pain of deficit reduction and as long as it's a balanced approach I'm going to support it," the North Carolina congressman said.
There are, however, eight words, that have many CBC members and other liberals uttering words like nonstarter and no-brainer to describe why they won't support any bill that includes them: Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, or Chained CPI.
It's a way to index spending and taxes, including Social Security benefits, to a lower rate of inflation to slow the rate of benefit growth. More simply put, it means a reduction in Medicare and Social Security benefits.
California Rep. Maxine Waters was one of several lawmakers who expressed concerned. She told BET.com that they are so fiercely against chained CPI that they've practically pledged in blood to not support it. Rep. Keith Ellison is helping to lead an effort that would penalize anyone who votes for it with a primary challenge in 2014.
"Being against the chained CPI is a no brainer for me. And it's not about politics, it's about what is right and fair," said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings.
And young adults who may be thinking that it's got nothing to do with them, Cummings added, should think again.
"If we were to reduce benefits on their mothers and fathers who've already lost in many instances their homes, their jobs and their savings, somebody's got to help them survive," he said. "If you raise the age of Medicare eligibility, somebody's got to help them find a way to pay some premiums. So it does affect them and also will when they get older. We have to guard the system that we have."
The reality is that Obama's bill in its entirety won't make it to either chamber for a vote. But concessions like chained CPI can be used as bargaining chips that may well end up in the final piece of legislation and put some lawmakers in an awkward position.
Speaking on background, one lawmaker said that many CBC members now represent districts that are not majority-African-American or are growing more conservative. If they support chained CPI, they risk the progressives' threat of being primaried.
Rep. Gwen Moore has introduced a bill that she says can help accomplish the goals of entitlement reform without harming beneficiaries.
"This is an initial negotiating point, so I'd be very eager to negotiate back from chained CPI, because there are ways to accomplish the goals of entitlement reform without cutting benefits to beneficiaries," the Wisconsin lawmaker said.
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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)