Obama Packs Debt Commission with Social Security Looters
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A foregone conclusion?
Andy Stern, president of SEIU, is Obama's only pick out of six who is sure to oppose Social Security cuts. Everyone else is likely open to slashing.
For the commission to reach an agreement, its Democrats will have to win the support of at least two Republicans, which will be nearly impossible unless spending cuts are among its proposals. That Obama’s picks are so amenable to, if not gunning for, some form of benefits cuts suggests the White House is indeed seeking such a "grand bargain" from the commission, not a stalemate. The odds are slim, especially given the commission’s history, that five of the 10 Democrats would defy the White House to kill such a bargain.
As the New York Times confirms, in establishing the group Obama has once again adopted a course favorable to his economic advisers and their Wall Street friends over the objections of his political team. How much of the usual looting this will involve remains to be seen. They seem to be proceeding carefully. Earlier, following Obama's recent spending freeze announcement, an anonymous official told the Times that spending cuts would start with earmarks in order to earn goodwill with the public, and then move on to more "popular entitlement programs."
"By helping to create a new atmosphere of fiscal discipline, it can actually also feed into debates over other components of the budget," the official said, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.
Which administration official might this be? Sadly, it could be just about anyone, as Obama’s economics team is dominated by Wall Street-friendly advisers, most of whom are close friends and proteges of Robert Rubin, and have been calling (pdf) for Social Security reductions for years. The March 23 Gray Lady front-pager mentions two of them, Orszag and Jason Furman, along with associate budget director Jeffrey Liebman, as likely masterminds. Both Orszag and Furman followed Rubin into Obama's inner circle from the Hamilton Project. Liebman too has a history of Social Security mischief – he was on the commission under Clinton.
If President Obama wants to get heavy handed about the deficit, he could start by putting an end to the disastrous and unpopular schemes that created it – the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the trillions of dollars funneled to Wall Street. Unfortunately, it looks like Obama has taken the bankers' bait: the only people disciplined by his fiscal retreat will be millions of senior citizens with the gall to believe that society should guarantee them a decent standard of living.