Obama Pick for Budget Commission Is a Very Ominous Sign; A Social Security-Medicare Slasher
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On Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order creating a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
This commission is based on an idea promoted by two Senators, Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus warned that the Conrad-Gregg legislative version of the deficit commission would have “painted a big red target on Social Security and Medicare. That's what this commission is all about. It's a big roll of the dice for Social Security and Medicare."
President Obama pushed to get the Senate to pass the Conrad-Gregg commission, which would have required the Congress to vote on its budget-cutting recommendations in a “fast-track,” undemocratic up-or-down vote with no amendments and little opportunity for debate. Senate Republicans, some of whom sponsored the legislation, refused to vote for it – so Obama is doing something similar by executive order.
So what should the 60 organizations and many concerned citizens who opposed the Conrad-Gregg version of this commission (because they heeded Sen. Baucus’s warnings) think about the Obama version?
One very bad sign: The President announced that the Republican co-chair of this bipartisan commission would be former Senator Alan Simpson, who hated defenders of Social Security and Medicare so much that he tried as Senator to attack and intimidate AARP, holding hearings that could have affected the senior groups tax status. A May 4, 1995 AP story reported then-Representative (now Senator) Ron Wyden called Simpson’s behavior “'classic scapegoating' and said Simpson is trying to cover up Republican efforts to cut Medicare by discrediting AARP.”
Bill Scher's post yesterday about the Simpson pick refreshes our memories about the aggressive role that then-Senator Simpson played in pushing for cuts to Social Security -- and attacking AARP. All over Washington today organizations that care about the elderly are warning that this commission could easily turn into a "runaway train" that could do great damage to Social Security and Medicare. The appointment of Alan Simpson gives no relief to those concerns.
Now before I get pegged as a liberal who doesn’t care about the fiscal health of my nation, let me make it clear that I am in favor of getting the deficit under control. As many recent studies have shown, that deficit (and resulting debt) are due to the profligate tax cuts for the wealthy under George Bush, the Medicare Part D program and two wars that were launched with no worry about paying for them. And the massive recession has hit tax revenues while requiring that Obama launch a crucial stimulus program that kept the world from plunging into a second Great Depression.
Yesterday, President Obama reiterated how important that stimulus spending has been. And he made the case for spending more money (without balancing it with program cuts or tax increases) to get unemployment down and jobs growing again. One problem is that premature focus on deficits chokes off economic recovery.
So, things to worry about: the Obama Commission takes up the Simpson and general conservative fixation on cutting Social Security and Medicare – even though Social Security is now paying for itself and providing extra funds to finance the deficit. Even though the Obama administration is rightly trying to reform the whole health care system which is driving Medicare costs – and they are working to reform Medicare without cutting benefits – conservatives like Simpson want to slash benefits.
Progressives who agree that the deficit is a long-term problem can and must make the case for protecting and improving Social Security and Medicare benefits, while demanding that the nation and this Obama commission focus on reforming the health care system.