On the day I posted a story about the secret war on Social Security and Medicare a couple of weeks ago, 12 Democratic senators and one Independent signed a letter to Senate Leader Harry Reid asking that he support one of the several bills in Congress that would set up a commission “to deal with our nation's long-term fiscal imbalances.”
That sounds like a responsible thing to do, don't you think? Except that this “entitlement commission,” which some are trying to rename “deficit commission” to sound better, hands over just about all jurisdiction for Social Security and Medicare to an outside commission. That commission could submit recommendations to Congress which would have no opportunity for debate or amendments and would be allowed only an up or down vote.
The people who are calling this a back door effort to gut Social Security are exactly right. As I explained in the earlier post, one of the speakers at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the commission proposal from Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg was the head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, David M. Walker. Peterson, who funded his foundation with $1 billion of his personal fortune, has spent decades lobbying to kill Social Security.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research put it more strongly yesterday:
“There is a determined clique, led by Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson, that has been trying to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits for at least the last two decades...
“It is especially outrageous that the Peterson crew would be leading this crusade to cut Social Security and Medicare. In part, because they were running around yelling about deficits projected for 2050, those of us who were trying to warn about the $8 trillion housing bubble could not get attention.
“The Peterson's crew imaginary horror story helped to conceal the real disaster that was about to blow up the economy. Now this gang has the nerve to use the deficits created in part by their own incompetence as a reason to push their agenda for cutting Social Security and Medicare.”
Contrary to the Peterson Chicken Little scenario and President Bush's falsehood, when he was trying to sell the nation on Social Security privatization, Social Security is not “broke,” as Bush put it, and is not going broke.
In a telephone conversation last week, Sandy Wise, senior policy analyst at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), told me that according to the 2008 Social Security Trustees' Report,
“...the funding gap is just over one-half of one percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or about what it would cost to make President Bush’s tax cuts for the top one percent of taxpayers permanent."
And in fact, according to the same report, extending all those tax cuts (not just the top one percent) would cost 1.95 percent of GDP – three-and-a-half times the Social Security shortfall. Obviously, there is an easy fix for Social Security right under our noses.
On Monday, Talking Points Memo reported that moderate and conservative Democrats are so determined to get an the entitlement commission that if Congress does not pass legislation for it, they will refuse to vote for the must-pass debt ceiling legislation which, if it is defeated, “would trigger a default, and, perhaps, economic calamity.”
Personally, I don't believe those Democrats would put their futures on the line in such a drastic manner, but the threat of the commission doesn't go away whether they do or don't, and no one knows where the White House stands on the commission issue.
As to the Senate, on Monday an aide in Leader Harry Reid's office told me only this: "Senator Reid has been actively talking with many of his colleagues and administration officials about this type of proposal. Those conversations are ongoing."
Josh Marshall at TPM points out that if you think getting the budget under control is important at this point in time (and that is highly debatable), there are only two ways to do it: raising taxes or cutting social programs like Social Security and Medicare – and the latter is what will happen if the entitlement commission comes into being.
Aside from Dean Baker and Talking Points Memo, as far as I can tell, the pressure to pass legislation creating the entitlement commission is being ignored by mainstream media. That leaves you and me to stay on top of this, and you should let your congressional representatives know you are watching them on this issue. There are many places online to make it easy to contact them; this is one of them.
Here are the names of the 13 senators who signed the letter to Leader Harry Reid in support of commission legislation:
Evan Bayh (Indiana)
Mark Begich (Alaska)
Michael Bennet (Colorado)
Kent Conrad (North Dakota)
Diane Feinstein (California)
Kay Hagen (North Carolina)
Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)
Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
Bill Nelson (Florida)
Arlen Specter (Pennyslvania)
Mark Udall (Colorado)
Mark Warner (Virginia)
As Sandy Wise wisely pointed out to me, “We shouldn't cut Social Security because we bailed out Wall Street.”
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Full Circle