Certainly you recall that back in 2004 and 2005, then-President Bush put all the substantial muscle of his office into Social Security “reform.” He and his surrogates spent more than year flitting about the nation spreading lies that Social Security was in “crisis,” that it was “broke.”
The solution to this non-problem, he said, was to privatize Social Security. Younger workers would be allowed to divert a portion of their Social Security contribution into private accounts and invest it as they chose.
Ignoring Wall Street history that includes a decade-long, ruinous Depression and several painful recessions, the president blithely suggested that everyone would be millionaires by the time they retired.
Sensibly, the people of the United States overwhelmingly rejected President Bush's privatization scheme, and if anyone had any doubts about its dangers, they were washed away in the crash of October 2008.
That should have been the end of attacks on the most successful social program in the history of the world. But no.
There is a growing drumbeat, mostly under the media radar, to cut not just Social Security benefits, but Medicare and Medicaid too. Several previous attempts at what is being called “entitlement reform” have faded away, but the pressure for it continues and is increasing.
Now, there is a proposal from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (Dem. N.D.) and Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to create an “entitlement commission” and to do it soon.
The idea this time, as in similar past efforts, is to force major changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (read: benefit cuts) by tasking the commission of appointed members to create legislation to cut costs and then force an up or down vote in Congress without scheduling time for debate or an allowance for amendments.
Last week, the Senate Budget Committee heard testimony on the Conrad/Gregg commission proposal. All ten witnesses support the creation of this commission; none who oppose it were invited. Among the supporters who spoke was David M. Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation who, like most proponents of the commission, seeks to conflate the current recession with the cost of entitlement programs:
“...we must recognize the reality that key factors that contributed to the recent mortgage-related sub-prime crisis also exist in connection with the federal government's own finances,” said Walker. “These factors are: first, a disconnect between the parties who benefit from prevailing policies and practices and those who will pay the price and and bear the burden for today's fiscal irresponsibility.”
Barbara B. Kennelly, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, translated that (intentionally?) murky testimony into English in a letter to Congress [pdf]:
“[W]e are surprised to see the federal deficit and the federal debt cited as the reason a commission needs to be established to make cuts in Social Security.”
That the head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation testified in favor of the commission should raise a bright red warning flag to all of us. For years, Peterson has used his influence and his money – he endowed the Foundation with $1 billion from his personal fortune – to crusade for the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare. Earlier this year, William Greider further deconstructed Peterson's message:
“It is a frightful message,” wrote Greider. “Peterson describes a '$53 trillion hole' in America's fiscal condition - but the claim assumes numerous artful fallacies. His most blatant distortion is lumping Social Security, which is self-funded and sound, with other entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.
“Those programs do face financial crisis - not because the elderly and poor are greedily gaming the system but because the medical-industrial complex has the profit incentive to drive healthcare costs higher and higher. Healthcare reform can solve the financing problem only if it imposes cost controls on private players like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.”
So what we have is a well-connected, billionaire activist who has no need for Social Security and Medicare using his fortune and influence (he was Secretary of Commerce under President Nixon, founder of the Blackstone Group and former chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations) to set up a 15-person commission within Congress that would remove control from and the responsibility of ALL of Congress to make decisions about Social Security, Medicare and much of the entire tax system.
A substantial number of Congress members appear to believe this is a good idea, and it is more dangerous than President Bush's privatization scheme because it is moving forward without attention from major media. If the plan succeeds, decisions about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs will be made by a cabal of legislators and unelected appointees behind closed doors rather than in open Congress.
Not only would Congress at large have no say beyond a yes/no vote on commission-created legislation, there would be no opportunity for we the people to let our representatives know where we stand. I won't stand for that and neither should you.
There are, of course, more details than there is room to explain here. If you are as interested and alarmed as I am, here are some links – in addition to the ones above - to help you understand what's going on.
Passing the Buck to an Entitlement Commission
17 November 2009
13 November 2009
Senators Discuss Creation of Panel to Control Health Costs
11 November 2009
Fast-tracking Cuts to Social Security and Medicare
10 November 2009
Senator Gregg's Comments in Congress [pdf]
13 May 2009
Checking America's Balance Sheets
12 February 2009
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: The Scullery Maid