Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Bleak Outlook

Ben Somberg has been blogging about official Washington's deficit fetish. On July 3 he maintained "the reality is rather different: that despite months of deficit hyping by Peter Peterson, many Republicans, some Democrats, and some of the commentariat, there's little evidence that much of the public buys it." On June 19 he noted that over the previous three months Pew Research/National Journal, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Fox News, CBS/NYT, and Gallup polls all revealed that the public is not obsessed by the deficit and is more concerned about economic growth and jobs.

Unfortunately, that message seems lost on President Obama's political advisors, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and chief strategist David Axelrod, who now has stated in an interview’s my job to report what the public mood is. I’ve made the point that as a matter of policy and a matter of politics that we need to focus on this, and the president certainly agrees with that.

Despite the wiser advice being given by most of the President's economic advisors- most of whom support additional economic stimulus- it appears that the emphasis on deficit reduction is in part a policy decision. A fiscal reform plan proposed by President Obama's pretentiously-named National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is expected to be presented to Congress- in the lame-duck session following the November elections.

The corporatists who dominate the commission are not the only source of concern to those of us committed to Social Security and Medicare, among the two most popular, and successful, government programs in American history. House Minority Leader John Boehner, who in January may become Speaker John Boehner, admits "I think raising the retirement age going out 20 years so you're not affecting anyone close to retirement, and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken." House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland argues "We should consider a higher retirement age or one pegged to lifespan" and Majority Whip James Clyburn of Georgia contends "with minor changes to the program such as raising the salary cap and raising the retirement age by one month every year, the program could become solvent for the next 75 years."

As usual, Speaker Pelosi is a voice of good sense- but here an additional source of concern:

Around here, there's not a lot of outdoor work or heavy lifting. But for some people it is, and 70 means something different to them. So in any event let's talk about growth, lets talk about how we can reduce spending, lets put everything, those initiatives: promoting growth, tightening the belt, looking at entitlements. But let's not start on the backs of our seniors.

She doesn't want to start with the elderly. But she evidently will not block a cut in benefits (or increasing the retirement age or however it's done) if it's part of a package. And she has agreed to put up for a vote any deficit cutting scheme first passed by the Senate.

Let's not forget, however, that the creator of this commission was President Obama, in what appeared to be an outreach to Republicans, anxious to cut the social safety net. The Senator who wanted to be a bi-partisan and transformative president may yet transform the Democratic Party into permanent minority status by undermining programs which prove that government works, never a good strategy for the party more closely identified with government. The president who admires President Reagan, who began the war on the middle class, may hasten the decline of that dwindling segment of the American populace.

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