Here we go again: "Reform" of Social Security and Medicare
Rep. Jerrold Nadler is a true progressive and a tireless worker for causes that often get short shrift from other Democrats, even many who are very well-liked on this site. He is one of the few members of Congress I can think of who care deeply about the erosion of our civil liberties. He isn't afraid to call out the Obama Administration when he feels that they are triangulating or retreating to the right.
Yesterday, he didn't have a whole lot of time to speak to us, and he chose to use a good chunk of it to talk about the Deficit Reduction Panel. As you are probably aware, this body has been charged with finding ways to reduce the federal deficit through some combination of of tax increases and spending cuts, by the end of November. What Rep Nadler had to say about it was pretty alarming, and if he's right, we should all be getting ready to re-fight a fight we thought we'd won five years ago.
President Obama created this entity by executive order, over the predictable objections of the Republicans. Even its task is of debatable value, since some liberal economists, notably Paul Krugman, feel that
a) the stimulus should have been much larger,
b) the deficit is something we can live with for a while,
c) the best way to reduce the deficit is to grow our way out of it, as we did with the previous Republican-created deficit, andhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
d) the economy is still far too fragile to support the tax increases and diminished supports that would be necessary, putting us at risk of a double-dip recession.
Rep. Nadler indicated yesterday that he agrees with Krugman's thesis, that this commission's work is probably not going to benefit the country in the big picture. But what he thinks we really need to worry about (and do more than worry, but I'll get to that later) is the makeup of the commission, and one of their prime objectives: the "reform" of Social Security and Medicare.
Social Security does not need to be "reformed". Neither does Medicare. We were told yesterday, by Senator Schumer (who had no idea that Rep. Nadler was going to discuss this) that Social Security is on a sound economic footing for approximately the next 50 years. If you used to listen to Al Franken when he was on Air America Radio, back in 2005, you'll remember that he pounded this fact on almost a daily basis.
Medicare, after the passage of the HIR act, is solvent for about the next 12 years, and its main problem is not the way the program is being administered, but that medical costs continue to rise (whether that problem will be solved, even partly, by HIR remains to be seen).
In order to put these projections in perspective, you should consider that when the Social Security was last amended in 1983, it was weeks away from bankruptcy. There is no emergency here.
What there is, though, is a commission Rep. Nadler described as "stacked with right-wingers", who will be champing at the bit to dismantle the two most effective social welfare programs our nation has ever had. It comprises 18 members, who have been appointed as follows: six, including the two co-chairs, by President Obama, and three each by the Democratic and Republican leaderships of the House and Senate.
Allow me introduce them to you:
The Chairmen (appointed by the president):
Democrat Erskine Bowles: Former investment banker, was the head of Clinton's Small Business Administration and later his Chief of Staff. I know little of Bowles' attitudes towards SS and Medicare, and would welcome more information in the comments.
Republican Alan Simpson, former Representative and Senator from Wyoming, notably libertarian on social issues, but most likely on fiscal issues as well.
Other presidential appointees:
Cote, a Republican, has served as Honeywell International (HON.N) chairman, chief executive and president since 2002. He is a member of the U.S.-India CEO Forum, which Obama asked him to co-chair in 2009. He adds a business perspective to Obama's slate of representatives on the panel.
Rivlin is a former Federal Reserve vice chair who was also budget director under former President Bill Clinton. She was the founding director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office from 1975 to 1983. Now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, she would bring budget savvy to the panel.
Fudge worked as chairman and chief executive of Young & Rubicam Brands from 2003 to 2006. She previously held executive positions at General Mills and Kraft. Fudge would bring business experience to the budget panel.
Stern is president of the Service Employees International Union, which covers 2.2 million workers such as healthcare staffers, security officers and public employees. Stern would bring a labor perspective to the panel.
Of these four, the only one who seems likely to be even marginally concerned with the lives of ordinary Americans is Stern (who is, of course, more than marginally concerned). Even so, there were tantrums in Wingnuttiaover his appointment.
The remaining members need little or no introduction to this audience, so I will simply list them:
The Republican Senate Appointees:
Judd Gregg (NH)
Tom Coburn (OK)
Mike Crapo (ID)
The Republican House Appointees:
Paul Ryan (WI-1)
Dave Camp (MI -4)
Jeb Hensarling (TX-5)
The Democratic Senate Appointees:
Dick Durbin (IL)
Kent Conrad (ND)
Max (I love healthcare!) Baucus (MT)
Thanks a bunch, Harry.
The Democratic House appointees:
John Spratt (SC-5)
In reporting on his appointment, Dow Jones Newswires called Spratt "one of the staunchest fiscal conservatives among House Democrats.
Xavier Becerra (CA-31)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-9)
Well, sorta yay, Nancy.
By my count, there are exactly four names up there, out of 18, who we can count on to stand firm for Social Security and Medicare: Stern, Durbin, Becerra and Schakowsky.
And here's the clincher: the decisions of this commission will require - wait for it - a 14-vote majority to pass. In theory, this was done to ensure that all recommendations would have bipartisan approval, but when bipartisanship only requires the assent of the likes of Spratt, Baucus, and Fudge (and I worry about Conrad, Bowles and Rivlin, too), bipartisanship looks like it means Republican. They are required to be handed down by December 1 (conveniently after the midterms), and they will then receive a straight up-or-down vote in both the Senate and the House: no committee work, no amendments offered or voted on, and (I presume) no pretend-filibustering in the Senate.
Even though the President has stated that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would not be affected, I am skeptical that this particular group of individuals would be able to resist that temptation. And here's Ben Bernanke, insisting they must do exactly that.
I'm taking my cue from Rep. Nadler. Even though it seems like December is a lifetime away politically, I'm going to be watching this panel carefully and making sure my representatives understand that their vote next winter may be all that stands between the American people and the destruction of Social Security and Medicare. I hope you will, too.
Sidnora is cluing us in to a very important issue here. Personally I am not as pessimistic as her about what is going on and suspect that there won't be major conservative reforms that come from this. BUT, I may be wrong and either way we need to be very cautious. It might well be a good time to contact your Congressional Rep and Senator and basically just say, KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY. Keep sending them that message. I am pretty confident that most will get the point in time if we keep emphasizing it.