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Why not to give $250 to Gramps

It takes a strong spine (or a hard heart) to criticize President Obama's idea of sending a $250 check to every Social Security recipient — something he wants to do because the cost of living doesn't entitle seniors to a cost-of-living increase for next year. New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt noted that because overall prices have dropped 2.1 percent this year but Social Security benefits won't drop accordingly, "recipients are already set to receive an effective raise." And seniors may be sympathetic, but they're better off than some demographics. "The real median income of over-65 households rose 3 percent from 2000 to 2008," he wrote. "For households headed by somebody age 25 to 44, it fell about 7 percent."The whole episode does not bode well for the prospects that Obama and Congress will do something substantive about the unsustainability of Social Security and Medicare. "If the long-term issue is entitlement reform," said Joel Slemrod, a University of Michigan economist, "the fact that the political system cannot say no to $250 checks to elderly people is a bad sign."

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