Obama Packs Debt Commission with Social Security Looters
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
A decade of wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the fallout from Wall Street's housing bubble have almost tripled U.S. public debt since 2001, from $5 trillion to $14 trillion. Big, scary numbers like this, along with carefully timed downgrade warnings from Wall Street's obedient rating agencies and continuing worries about the financial collapse of Greece, Portugal and other nations have changed the political climate in Washington, breathing new life into decades-old schemes to slash Social Security and Medicare entitlements.
And defending Social Security does indeed sound like yesterday's issue — a fight the people won when they defeated Bush's attempt to privatize the system in 2005. Our Social Security program is currently solvent through 2037, while millions of Americans are unemployed, millions more are losing their homes, and still millions more are struggling to meet soaring health insurance costs after watching their retirement accounts dwindle in the financial collapse. Would the entitlement wolves -- primarily Wall Street executives who stand to reap billions from Social Security privatization -- really have the gall to go after Social Security now? In a word, yes.
Global deficit jitters and
In other words, because rapidly rising Medicare costs were not effectively contained by health care reform -- it would have hurt the health care industry -- slowly rising Social Security costs will instead have to get the axe. Instead of weaning corporations—banks, insurance companies, war contractors—off the federal teat, the administration is seriously considering punishing seniors.
The Debt Commission
In January, pressure from a broad spectrum of activist groups killed an amendment by senators Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, and Judd Gregg, D-New Hampshire, to create a special bipartisan commission that would submit a broad deficit-reducing plan to Congress for an up or down vote by year-end. The commission's bipartisan makeup, its procedural restrictions in Congress, and the timing of its recommendations – arriving just after the midterm elections – were all designed to insulate the decision-makers from popular pressures that might take entitlement "reform" off the table. Moreover, because the 18-member commission (10 Democrats, eight Republicans) would require 14 votes for in order to report its recommendations, giving both parties veto power, cuts to Social Security and Medicare were widely assumed to be a necessary component of any consensus. In order for the commission to accomplish anything, Democrats would have to concede such cuts to Republicans in return for tax increases.
After the defeat of the Conrad-Gregg commission, groups defending Social Security had little time to rejoice before Obama resuscitated the plan, creating the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform by executive order. While the Commission's proposals will not be limited to an up or down vote in Congress, it's otherwise exactly as Conrad-Gregg envisioned, and Pelosi and Reid have promised to put them to a vote before the end of the current session of Congress.