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Social Security and Medicare Put at Risk By Bogus "Debt Commission," Say Progressive Leaders

Two senators want to blackmail the rest by saddling a spending bill with a "debt commission." Progressive leaders are crying foul.

Progressive leaders representing more than 50 organizations declared their opposition Wednesday to the Conrad-Gregg debt commission proposal, which is expected to be introduced on the Senate floor soon as part of the bill to allow our federal government to meet its obligations by raising the debt ceiling.

The commission as originally envisioned -- with the power to prevent any amendments to its recommendations on the House and Senate floors -- is expected to be defeated by the full Senate. But the minority of pro-austerity, anti-Social Security/Medicare senators has threatened to force the entire US government into default if a compromise isn't reached that satisfies them.

Reports of a possible compromise were published today, but details were sketchy. From the Washington Post:

Under the [reported] agreement, President Obama would issue an executive order to create an 18-member panel that would be granted broad authority to propose changes in the tax code and in the massive federal entitlement programs -- including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- that threaten to drive the nation’s debt to levels not seen since World War II.

At today's press conference, Campaign for America's Future Co-director Roger Hickey said the united progressive front "can been taken as a warning" for any proposal that undemocratically subverts the normal legislative process and recklessly targets Social Security and Medicare.

Speakers at the conference were willing to wait and see what compromise is reached before passing judgment. Hickey drew a line, explaining that "a forum to talk about deficits is one thing," but "if it's undemocratic ... or focused on illegitimate targets like Social Security" which is not contributing to any long-term fiscal problem, then the White House and congressional leaders can expect tough criticism.

Many speakers stressed the need for a long-term deficit reduction strategy, but up-front investment in job creation is the immediate priority, and would also lead to deficit reduction via economic growth.

Joan Entmacher of National Women’s Law Center noted that responsible ways to cut the deficit were available now if austerity activists weren't only interested in attacking Social Security and Medicare. The pending health care reform legislation has been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to provide significant deficit reduction. And several proposals are available that target the financial industry, forcing hedge fund managers to pay regular income taxes, shutting down offshore tax havens, and levying the "Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee" so banks fully pay back taxpayers for the TARP bailout.

While right-leaning Democrats can be expected to cite the support Massachusetts independents gave to the conservative Senate candidate as reason to push drastic austerity, Gerald Shea of the AFL-CIO emphasized that deep cuts are "wrongheaded in the present atmosphere" when voters are demanding "attention to the jobs crisis." Further, Barbara Kennelly of the National Committee to Protect Social Security added that seniors are deeply afraid of Social Security being raided and are tired to being seen as the nation's "piggy bank."

More about the debt commission fight can be found at

Bill Scher is the online editor for Campaign for America's Future and the author of Wait! Don't Move To Canada!: A Stay-and-Fight Strategy to Win Back America . He is also a contributor to The Huffington Post and, and a fellow of the Commonweal Institute.