WASHINGTON, April 10 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama put Social Security on the negotiating table Wednesday when he suggested switching how annual cost-of-living adjustments are determined.
"Both parties, for example, agree that the rising cost of caring for an aging generation is the single biggest driver of our long-term deficits," Obama said when introducing his budget in the Rose Garden. "And the truth is, for those like me who deeply believe in our social insurance programs ... we're going to have to make some changes. But they don't have to be drastic ones."
The budget plan would change the calculation method for the annual cost of living adjustments for Social Security and other federal programs. Shifting to "chained CPI" in 2013 from the current inflation measure could reduce the federal debt by $230 billion, but it also mean seniors would see smaller increases in their Social Security payments each year.
"Most economists agree that the chained CPI provides a more accurate measure of the average change in the cost of living than the standard CPI," the budget document said. "Switching to the chained CPI, which will reduce deficits and improve Social Security solvency, has been proposed in almost every major bipartisan deficit reduction plan put forward over the past several years ... ."
The president's proposal doesn't sit well with a seniors' advocacy group that urged people to call their members of Congress Wednesday to voice their opposition to changes in the cost-of-living calculations.
The National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare said its hotline number would connect callers to their senators and congressional representatives.
On Tuesday, the group delivered petitions with 2 million signatures to the White House.
"Contrary to the political spin, America's seniors know this chained CPI proposal isn't a 'tweak' or an 'adjustment,'" Max Richtman, the committee's president and chief executive officer, said in a news release Tuesday. "It's not more accurate for seniors but it is designed to cut benefits and raise taxes, largely on the poor and middle class. Any politician in Washington who thinks they can slip these benefit cuts by millions of seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and their families unnoticed is in for the shock of their careers."
The budget document stated Obama "has made clear that any such change in approach should protect the most vulnerable."
""For that reason, the budget includes protections for the very elderly and others who rely on Social Security for long periods of time, and only applies the change to non-means tested benefit programs," the document stated. "The switch to chained CPI will reduce deficits by at least $230 billion over the next 10 years."
Obama's budget for the Social Security Administration includes $12.3 billion in funding for the agency's operations, a 7 percent increase over the 2012 enacted level. The increased funding is directed toward expanding program integrity investments.
The budget also supports pilot programs to improve education and employment outcomes for people with disabilities and enhancements to program integrity to reduce waste, fraud and abuse.
Obama also used the Social Security Administration budget explanation to reiterate his commitment to ensure Social Security is solvent and viable "now and in the future," the document said. Current forecasts indicate that Social Security can pay full benefits until 2033.
He also restated his strong opposition to privatizing Social Security, as has been proffered by congressional Republicans, "and looks forward to working in a bipartisan way to preserve it for future generations.