Why the Social Security-Slaying "Deficit Commission" Proposal Is Wrong and Why We Shouldn't Worry Yet

This week two chairs of an executive-branch bipartisan commission on deficit reduction released a report--the Bowles-Simpson report--which quickly caused consternation because of its suggested massive cuts to social security and other popular problems. In the words of the Washington Post;

"[Former Clinton White House Chief-of-Staff- Bowles and [Former Republican Senator Alan J.] Simpson are proposing to slay a herd of sacred cows, including the tax deduction for mortgage interest claimed by many homeowners, the tax-free treatment of employer-provided health insurance and the practice of letting retirees claim Social Security benefits starting at age 62. The blueprint would raise the early retirement age to 64 and the standard retirement age to 69 for today's toddlers."

But don't fear, say bloggers across the liberal spectrum,because not only are the ideas contained in the proposal unfeasible and poor solutions, the proposal itself doesn't matter, policy wise. What the report appears to be is a "trial balloon" designed to gauge legislative and public reaction--and open leverage for negotiation within the 18-member committee. David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo calls this report"an opening salvo" in negotiating for an actual solution.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones writes that the proposal is just "two guys";s thought on the matter, and is only to be taken seriously because it's been written about in the press.  He writes that content-wise, the proposal just isn't serious because it doesn't tackle the biggest budgetary issue facing the country: health care.

"Any serious long-term deficit plan will spend about 1% of its time on the discretionary budget, 1% on Social Security, and 98% on healthcare. Any proposal that doesn't maintain approximately that ratio shouldn't be considered serious. The Simpson-Bowles plan, conversely, goes into loving detail about cuts to the discretionary budget and Social Security but turns suddenly vague and cramped when it gets to Medicare. That's not serious."

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein writes that while some of the proposal is intriguing to him and some not to his liking, it does little to solve the real problem: our abysmally slow-moving, animosity-filled legislative system.

The co-chairmen have some interesting policy ideas for how to balance the budget, but as of yet, they've not made any discernible progress on the political deadlock preventing us from balancing the budget. And it's the deadlock, not the policy questions, that they were asked to solve.

Instead of taking this report as the be-all end-all, the consensus, including even the White House, is that the public stay tuned to see what happens in the next few weeks as all parties try to hammer out an agreement.

AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at November 11, 2010, 4:39am

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