Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why Obama's base is angry at him

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
April 12, 2013 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: Obama's budget proposed changes that will hurt Social Security recipients
  • He says opposition to new formula for calculating inflation increases is strong
  • Jones: Don't reduce benefits, raise cap on Social Security taxes so wealthy pay more
  • Even a great president can make mistakes, and Obama made one here, he says

Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter: @VanJones68.

(CNN) -- Democrats spend so much time defending President Obama, it is easy to forget that even the most beloved presidents make mistakes and missteps. His new budget, which proposes a method of calculating inflation that will reduce increases in Social Security payments, is a doozy.

Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, have been raising the alarm for months. Reps. Alan Grayson and Mark Takano circulated a letter firmly pledging to vote against any social safety net cuts. As of this moment, 33 representatives have signed.

Van Jones
Van Jones

Now, Obama is also getting pushback from outside Congress. Opposition runs the political gamut from the AFL-CIO to nonpartisan AARP to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. A coalition of grass-roots organizations has organized to stop the cuts. It includes the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Social Security Works, Credo Action, my organization Rebuild the Dream and more.

Many of these groups supported the president in 2012. On Tuesday, they presented the signatures of more than 2 million Americans opposed to cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Some may call this a knee-jerk response from liberals who would oppose any adjustments to New Deal programs. They are wrong.

Progressives must be willing to reform programs such as Social Security, precisely because they are so important. The question is how? There are better solutions that the president could champion. For example, we could shore up Social Security for decades by raising the cap on taxable income -- so that it is not just poor and middle-class folks whose entire paychecks are taxed.

But Obama's plan leaves that cap in place -- protecting the wealthiest Americans. Instead of asking more from the rich to shore up Social Security, his proposed budget would take more from the middle class and poor.

Obama: I've met GOP more than halfway
Obama's budget: What could be cut?
GOP, Dems rail against Obama budget
White House defends budget

Don't let all the D.C. jargon fool you. Some in Washington would have us believe that Obama's "Chained CPI" proposal is a mere tweak that more accurately reflects costs. Not true.

By changing the fine print on cost-of-living adjustments, Obama's plan would ensure that benefits rise more slowly than inflation. That would have devastating impacts on ordinary people immediately upon passage, hurt more tomorrow and get worse each year.

Under his plan, as food and medicine gets more expensive, your Social Security check would grow only a tiny bit. This approach may help the government's balance sheet, but it would hurt your pocketbook and your family. It is not cost savings; it is cost-shifting. To people who paid into the program for their entire lives, it is a cut -- plain and simple.

Prices are rising even faster than inflation on things such as health care, which the elderly consume at a greater rate. The most accurate adjustment for inflation would actually give senior citizens more -- not less, which is what they would get under Obama's proposal. Our leaders should be trying to make life easier for middle-class families, not harder.

Second, we are told that we cannot balance the budget without cutting the social safety net. But we didn't get into a budgetary hole because we spent too much money helping grandma. We have a budget imbalance because of the Bush wars and Bush tax cuts, combined with the economic downturn. Yet the Obama budget eliminates the recent automatic cuts to the Pentagon budget, even as it cuts Social Security and increases Medicare premiums for middle-class seniors. It doesn't make any sense.

The administration says these cuts would come about only in the context of a so-called "balanced" compromise. But the numbers tell a different story. Economist Dean Baker notes that these cuts would hit the average retiree three times as hard as the recent tax increases hit the top 1%.

Budgets are a vision for the country expressed in dollars. Obama's budget is far better than the Republican alternative. But it is time to start expecting more from the man elected twice to speak for the middle class.

Bad ideas from a great president are still bad ideas. Everyone who pulled the lever for Obama in November should call the White House today, and say simply: Mr. President, this is not change we can believe in.

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that President Obama was the first Democratic president to propose changes to reduce future Social Security benefits.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT