“Correcting the CPI”: The Birth of a Talking Point

I spent yesterday morning at The Atlantic’s economy summit, one of the media empire’s frequent let’s-sit-around-and-discuss-ideas confabs. It was there that I saw White House economic adviser Gene Sperling birth a new talking point. James Bennet, editor of the magazine, kept pushing Sperling for details of what a White House grand bargain might look like. (Washingtonians are never not talking about this.)

“The president of the United States put an offer on the table,” said Sperling. “It includes $400 billion in medicare savings. It includes, ah, ah, correcting the CPI, which is a very difficult policy decision to make.”


Normally it’s cheap to include verbal stops in a quote – ah, ah – but I put ‘em in because I had never heard that talking point. “Correcting the CPI?” That used to be called “chained CPI,” as someone referred to it in a Reddit AMA with Sperling, eliciting this answer: “The President would prefer to have this adjustment in the context of a larger Social Security reform.”

My colleague Matthew Yglesias has written about “chained CPI” many times, and David Cerpner has a good, worried explanation here about what would change if benefits were tied to a revised consumer price index. It’s far less progressive than a reform progressives want, and have wanted: Raising the cap on Social Security taxes. And it’s underlined and highlighted in the White House’s playbook.