Saturday, May 01, 2010

Danger Lurking In Debt Commission

There is hope yet: maybe, just maybe, the Republicans are right. (Uh, correct; they're right all the time now, just usually wrong.)

Perhaps the 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform created by an executive order issued by President Obama is, as GOP legislators, have suggested, merely an election-year ploy by Obama to make it appear that he's interested in arresting the national debt. Or, as Rush Limbaugh and some other rightists have argued, it is a cover for raising taxes. After all, the President has pointedly asserted that nothing is "ruled out" as a solution.

The signs, however, are not hopeful. There are two co-chairmen:

While Chief of Staff to President Clinton, Erskine Bowles was described by Business Week as "Corporate America's Friend in the White House." Earlier this year told a group of bankers in Greensboro "We’re going to mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security because if you take those off the table, you can’t get there.” By message and audience: Barack Obama's kind of Democrat.

His buddy is Alan Simpson, who as a Republican Senator from Wyoming tried to cut Social Security benefits indirectly and launched an investigation into AARP, trying to discredit it as Congress opened debate on Medicare. (This is, of course, how “The Village,” as Digby terms it, attempts to harm entitlement programs: by indirection, and always by calling them “entitlement programs.”) Pro-choice as a Senator, Simpson otherwise was a reliable conservative ; Barack Obama’s kind of GOP Senator.

President Obama's other appointees are David Cote, the chairman of Honeywell International; Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (who recently announced he will not seek re-election); Alice Rivlin, Brookings Institution economist and founding director of the Congressional Budget Office; and Ann Fudge, most economically described as a corporate chieftain.

Rivlin once recommended cuts in Medicare and Social Security benefits as well as raising the age for Social Security eligibility and altering the basis for calculating those benefits. And she’s one of the Democratic appointees. Cote is chairman of a major defense contractor, garnering total compensation of $12,839,038, which included a base salary of $1,800,000, $4,252,500 in stock, options granted of $6,374,500, and other compensation of $412,038. He is no doubt pleased that the President's willingness to consider all possible options specifically excludes defense spending. Shared sacrifice, indeed.

The Congressional leadership of each party appointed six members each: for the Republicans, Representatives Dave Camp of Michigan, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire; for the Democrats, Representatives Xavier Becerra of California, Jan Schakowski of Illinois, John Spratt of South Carolina and Senators Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Contrad of North Dakota, and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Durbin admonished both conservatives and liberals, arguing

the bleeding-heart liberals on this commission have to open their mind to what it takes to inspire competition and economic growth in our economy and make real sacrifices to strengthen our nation.

And that comes from a Democrat, who as Majority Whip is the second leading Democrat in the Senate. While no proposal can be made without support of fourteen of the eighteen members, Matthew Skomarovsky on Alternet noted that Andy Stern is the only one of Obama’s six choices virtually certain to oppose reduction in Social Security. Moreover,

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.

Perhaps Senator Barack Obama was being truthful, direct, and transparent when he pledged that his presidency would “make history”- the first Democratic President to lead a successful assault on arguably the two most popular government programs of our time.

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