Thursday, November 11, 2010

Catfood Commission begins to show its cards: phasing out Social Security is the main goal; Obama vaguely endorses "tough choices"

Today's feeding: wet or dry, Grandma?

The Catfood Commission began showing its cards on Wednesday, though the formal report isn't due until December 1. There's a lot of stuff in there, including tax cuts for the wealthy and elimination of one of the most popular tax subsidies that a large part of the public enjoys: the tax writeoff for home mortgage interest that lowers the effective interest rate on mortgages.

But most of that stuff is fluff. The point of the Catfood Commission is to phase out Social Security and Medicare, programs that right wing of the Republican Party never really accepted - and today there nothing but a right wing to the Republican Party.

Here are some of the news reports:

Heidi Przybyla and Brian Faler, Debt Plan Would Cut Taxes, Social Security, Medicare Bloomberg Businessweek 11/10/2010

Kevin G. Hall and David Lightman, With Social Security proposal, deficit panel touches third rail McClatchy Newspapers 11/10/2010

Peter Nicholas and Lisa Mascaro, Panel weighs deep federal budget cuts to trim deficit Los Angeles Times 11/10/2010

One code for the responses to watch is whether people commenting on it specify flatly that they're going to defend Social Security. If not, they're not on the people's side. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gets it right in her 11/10/2010 press release:

"Our nation is facing two challenges: the need to create jobs and address our budget deficit. Any viable proposal from the President’s Fiscal Commission must strengthen our economy, but it must do so in a fair way, focusing on how we can effectively promote economic growth.

"This proposal is simply unacceptable. Any final proposal from the Commission should do what is right for our children and grandchildren's economic security as well as for our nation's fiscal security, and it must do what is right for our seniors, who are counting on the bedrock promises of Social Security and Medicare. And it must strengthen America's middle class families--under siege for the last decade, and unable to withstand further encroachment on their economic security."
The White House gets it wrong. From the Bloomberg Businessweek article: "White House spokesman Bill Burton said in an e-mail the proposals 'are only a step in the process towards coming up with a set of recommendations.' He said Obama wants to give the panel 'space to work on it' and wouldn't comment on the plan." We have to assume at this point that President Obama intends to support Social Security Phaseout. Hopefully the negative reaction will lead him to realize what an incredibly bad idea it would be for him to do so. But he was the one who created the Catfood Commission by Executive Order when Congress declined to do so. And he was the one who stacked it with Social Security Phaseout advocates.

So it's not surprising that Obama himself encouraged consideration of Social Security Phaseout in a later statement (Tom Diemer, Reaction to Deficit Reduction Plan Runs Hot, Though Obama Urges Open-Mindedness Politics Daily 11/11/2010):

"We're going to have to make some tough choices. The only way to make those tough choices historically has been if both parties are willing to move forward together," he said. "So before anybody starts shooting down proposals, I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts. I think we need to be straight with the American people. If people are, in fact, concerned about spending, debt, deficits and the future of our country, then they're going to need to be armed with the information about the kinds of choices that are going to be involved, and we can't just engage in political rhetoric."
Apart from the disastrously bad policy content of Social Security Phaseout, having a Democratic President embrace such a reactionary concept could also have catastrophic consequences for the Democratic Party. This is a truly grim development. If the Democratic Party as a whole can't defend Social Security - as they actually did successfully in 2005 - any hope that they can press a long-term progressive economic policy on any other front is basically gone.

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