Hurray for Congress for turning down their cost-of-living-adjustment-warranted raise this week. Under what formula does Congress merit a COLA when Social Security recipients’ payments are flat for two years?

Under the law that governs congressional pay, senators and representatives were due to get an automatic cost of living increase on January 1, probably an extra $1,600 or 0.9 percent, unless they voted beforehand to turn it down.

And yet America’s elderly, disabled, and surviving children were told that there was not enough of an increase in the cost of living to warrant a COLA bump for them in 2010.

Here’s Robert Seigel and Scott Horsley’s discussion of the Social Security COLA last fall on NPR:

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, Robert, it’s pretty simple. Seniors and others who collect Social Security are not getting a cost of living increase because the cost of living has not increased. In fact, according to…

SIEGEL: It decreased.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: That’s right. According to the Labor Department’s calculations, it went down about two percent in the last year. One could argue, therefore, seniors – even if their checks stayed the same – will have more buying power than they have in the past. But that’s not good enough for the White House, and so they want to send a one-time check to all the people who get Social Security and veterans’ benefits of $250 some time next year. They point out that other parts of the stimulus package extend into next year. And so, in a way, this is just putting seniors on the same plane as workers.

A Texas paper explains the lack of COLA adjustment for our most needy Americans, those who qualify for federal assistance through Social Security:

For the first year since annual automatic cost of living adjustments (COLA) were established for Social Security and supplemental security income in 1975, Social Security payments remained flat.

Raises in Social Security and SSI are attached to inflation. To determine the adjustment, the third quarter inflation rate is compared to the one the year before. Consumer prices determine the inflation rate. In 2009, the rate fell 2.1 percent in the third quarter, compared to 2008.

“By law, the Department of Labor uses the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, and by law it’s used to calculate Social Security payments,” said Aurora Lopez with the Dallas regional public affairs office for the Social Security Administration.

Is there a special Elected Official Consumer Price Index? Or a Village Price Index that supercedes the one used for Social Security? This is simply another example of elites treating themselves differently than those who elect them.

So: Hurray for turning it down, Congress! But explain, please, the corruption that earns you a COLA while the most needy Americans do not.

It’s nice you are not taking it, but why were you offered it at all?

Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge