Social Security No-COLA Move More Bad News For Democrats : It's All Politics The announcement wasn't a surprise but it could likely fuel voter anger at the majority Democrats. The White House tried to mitigate the damage by calling for passage of a bill to send $250 payments to recipients.
NPR logo Social Security No-COLA Move More Bad News For Democrats

Social Security No-COLA Move More Bad News For Democrats

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a Los Angeles event in August 2010.  Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images hide caption

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Anyone who's been paying attention wasn't surprised by the Social Security Administration's announcement that recipients wouldn't be getting an automatic cost of living adjustment in 2011.

The consumer price index didn't meet the federal law's requirements for an increase so there won't be one next year for 58 million recipients.

Still, the news spells just more political trouble for congressional Democrats and the Obama Administration.

Many voters were already deeply anxious and angry about the economy. Telling retirees and others who rely on Social Security payments that they won't be getting a COLA for a second consecutive year, the announcement will likely only add to voters' desire to take their frustrations out on the party in power.

And it just so happens that, as is often the case, the voters most likely to vote are older, many of them Social Security recipients. They were already leaning Republican, according to polls. Friday's SSA announcement may get a few more going to the polls.

The White House, recognizing the political problem, issued a statement by press secretary Robert Gibbs, calling for passage of legislation that would send a $250 payment to recipients, just like last year:

Many seniors are struggling in the face of the economic downturn, having seen their savings fall. Today’s news that the Social Security Administration will for a second year not provide a cost of living adjustment for social security benefits highlights these struggles. The President will renew his call for a $250 Economic Recovery Payment to our seniors this year, as well as to veterans and people with disabilities.  Last year, under the Recovery Act, 56 million people benefited from the first Economic Recovery Payment—including about 50 million Social Security beneficiaries.  We’re grateful that Speaker Pelosi has indicated she will bring the new Economic Recovery Payment to a vote and we urge members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to support our seniors, veterans and others with disabilities who depend on these benefits.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for House Republican, Michael Steel, took the opportunity to ask why, if helping recipients was so important to Democrats, they didn't pass the legislation for the $250 payments before they left to campaign. Steel said in a statement:

“If this is really a priority for the President and Washington Democrats, why didn’t the Speaker bring it up for a vote before she adjourned the House?  If they aren’t planning to bring Congress back, by their own logic, isn’t it clear that they care more about campaigning to keep their job than America’s seniors?”

One fascinating aspect of the COLA decision is how it scrambles the normal ideological lines. Note how a House Republican aide is chiding Democrats for not quickly passing more spending at a time when Republicans generally are against increased spending on social programs.

And it's probably not unreasonable to suspect that some of those Tea Party movement supporters angry at federal deficits will be among those unhappy at not getting a Social Security COLA.