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Republicans block extra $250 for those on Social Security

The GOP leads House and Senate opposition to the checks, proposed in lieu of a cost-of-living adjustment for seniors.

December 08, 2010|By Jordan Steffen, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — A proposal to provide Social Security recipients with a lump-sum payment of $250 as a modest income boost in difficult economic times was blocked Wednesday by Republican-led opposition in the House and Senate.

The measure would have provided the one-time payment to 54 million Social Security recipients in lieu of an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

This is the second consecutive year that the cost-of-living adjustment has not been awarded, a result of the country's low inflation rate. Last year, Congress authorized a $250 payment to each recipient as part of the economic stimulus measure.

President Obama and congressional Democrats urged Congress to send another round of payments, but Senate Republicans had vowed to block Democratic-backed legislation that does not concern tax cuts and government spending.

The bill, which required 60 votes to pass in the Senate, failed on a 53-45 vote late Wednesday afternoon. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Democratic Sens. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Udall of Colorado and Mark R. Warner of Virginia joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

Warner's office said he voted against it on the basis of its cost, estimated at $13 billion. Other Democrats did not respond to requests for comment.

Most Democrats said the rejection of the proposal stood in contrast to a pending deal in which the wealthiest earners would continue receiving a tax break.

"People are wondering how it could be that we could provide a million dollars in tax breaks to the richest people in this country but we couldn't come up with $250 for struggling seniors and disabled vets," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said before the vote.

The proposal also failed in the House, where it would have required 290 for passage under special rules. There, the measure failed on a 254-153 vote, with 141 Republicans voting against the bill.

"While Democrats maintain a strong record protecting, upholding, and strengthening Social Security, Republicans continue to advocate risky schemes to privatize it and cut benefits," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) said after the vote. "America's seniors deserve better."

Congressional Republicans united against the stipend even though senior citizens represented one of the GOP's most potent support bases in the 2010 midterm elections. Exit polls estimate seniors favored Republicans by 18 to 20 points, a level far higher than in the last midterm, in 2006, when the senior vote split nearly evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

On average, retired workers receive nearly $1,200 a month in federal benefits.

Every year, the government automatically adjusts Social Security payments based on the nation's inflation rate. But for an increase in payments to occur, consumer prices must be higher than when the last increase was awarded. Consumer prices this year were up 1.1% compared with last year, but remained below what they were in 2008.

xcxjsteffen@tribune.com

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