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Inflation-Indexing Elements in Federal Entitlement Programs

CRS – Inflation-Indexing Elements in Federal Entitlement Programs, Dawn Nuschler, Coordinator, Specialist in Income Security, April 24, 2013

  • “In recent years, various proposals have been discussed in the context of ways to reduce federal budget deficits. One of the proposals, for example, is the use of a different measure of consumer price change to index various provisions of federal programs, including cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). For example, under current law, the Social Security COLA is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Under the proposal, the Social Security COLA would be based instead on the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (Chained CPI-U or C-CPI-U). Because the goal of the Chained CPI-U is to better reflect how consumers change their buying habits in response to changes in prices, supporters of the proposal argue that it is a more accurate measure for computing COLAs and making other automatic program adjustments. Opponents, however, view the proposal as a backdoor way of reducing benefits because the Chained CPI-U typically has risen more slowly than either the CPI-W or the traditional CPI-U. Some observers point out that the Chained CPI-U is published as a preliminary value that is subject to revision over a period of up to two years, and that it may not accurately reflect the cost of living for certain groups, such as the elderly population.”
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