Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Villagers are convinced that Social Security Phaseout is a great thing

Michael Hirsh in his analysis 'An Adult Conversation' about Budgets National Journal 12/01/2010 put on display the Beltway Village's completely fatuous obsession with phasing out Social Security via bipartisan harmony, aka, Democrats caving to the Republicans. The Catfood Commission issued a report that hasn't gotten a majority vote, even though its membership was stacked by President Obama so that it leaned heavily to those who support Social Security Phaseout.

There's not a word in Hirsh's analysis about the devastation that Social Security Phaseout would cause. For that matter, he doesn't both to say that Social Security Phaseout is the whole point of the cynical exercise. Hirsh gets all tingly at the bipartisanship:

You could almost forget, sitting there, that those whom Alan Simpson called "the workers of the dark arts" -- the lobbyists, the interest groups, the ideologues -- were waiting to pounce just outside the hearing room, to end this bipartisan "adult conversation." It was all so civil and positive, as if two years of bitter ideological battles over the size and nature of government had never taken place. Even Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., sat somewhat startled as Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Jeb Hensarling of Texas, two leading [rightwing] House Republicans serving on the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- better known as the deficit commission -- saluted Spratt as an honorable colleague who had moved the budget debate forward. "I wish you'd said it before," said Spratt, the soon-to-depart chairman of the budget committee, to laughter in the room. "We never did sit down and ... search for common ground."
The self-styled "adults" in the Village - who regard Little Tommy Friedman, Age 6, as a wise commentator - all know that God meant for old people to be sick and hungry and get by eating catfood and die early. So for them, gutting Social Security, the highly successful social insurance program without which most of the elderly in the US would be below the poverty level, is an indispensable sign of Seriousness (Village version).

Actually, that last quote from Spratt doesn't indicate a lot of bipartisanship went on. And the Catfood Commission member have failed to come up with anything close to a consensus. That in itself is a victory for Social Security supporters. But they've energized the zombie of Social Security Phaseout even in their failure. The next big test for the Obama Administration will be his State of the Union (SOTU) address in January. The Villagers expect him to be "adult" and offer those nice Republicans Social Security Phaseout in the SOTU in exchange for, well, none of the Republicans yelling out "You lie!" during the speech, or something equally substantial.

Hirsh spins out the Village fantasy on the issue:

Interviewed after unveiling of the commission’s final report – which called for $3.9 trillion in deficit cuts over ten years -- both liberal and conservative members described arriving at a couple of common realizations after eight months of study: one, of just how deep America's fiscal hole was; and two, just how central the issue had become to the concerns of average Americans worried about their children’s futures. "One thing we all learned on this commission is that the problem is much bigger than we thought," said Bruce Reed, the executive director. "Americans went through budget crises of their own over the past two years, and they want us to deal with ours." [my emphasis]
If our star pundits could read an opinion poll, they would know that the deficit is low on the list of public concerns. And that what concern is expressed is shallow.

Gene Lyons described the silliness of the analogy that Bruce Reed uses that - and why it's foolish for Obama and the Democrats to use such talk (Sure, the government is just like your family Salon 11/24/2010):

Democrats have been using this dreadfully misleading metaphor to showcase their "seriousness" to Washington media courtiers for years. Conservatives, of course, always use recessions to try to frighten people into cutting Scrooge McDuck's taxes. (Good times, too: The official rationale for the Bush tax cuts was it'd be imprudent to pay down the debt too fast.)

Remarkably, the public doesn't appear to be buying.

A week or so before Erskine and Simpson volunteered themselves to speak for a commission that hasn't yet voted, CBS News released a poll. What do Americans want the new Congress to focus upon next January? Fifty-six percent cited "economy/jobs." Second was "healthcare" at 14 percent. "Budget deficit/national debt" polled at 6 percent. If my e-mails are any indication, many of those are people who can't distinguish one from the other. [my emphasis]
Michael Hirsh, on the other hand, pats pro-Phaseout Democrats for caving to the Republicans in an "adult" manner on "entitlement reform", the Republicans term for Social Security Phaseout:

Accordingly, some political courage was in evidence. Some Democrats began to gingerly talk about touching their "third rail" -- entitlement reform -- while some Republicans talked about raising more tax revenues by reforming the tax code. "Every member of this commission gets it: This debt is like a cancer," co-chairman Erskine Bowles said afterwards. "There’s no turning back. ... Together I think we have started an adult conversation."
Maybe these "adult" Democrats can strike an "adult" compromise with the nice Republicans: we give you Social Security Phaseout, and you Republicans agree to eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction! Yeah, that will play well for the Democrats in 2012.

Even though the Catfood Commission hasn't even been able to issue a stock bipartisan report to be quickly forgotten, Hirsh sees hope that we can all come together to phase out Social Security. He declares that the Commission report that the Commission itself didn't even endorse passes the all-important Goldilocks test - both "the right" and "the left" criticize it!

Indeed, within hours of the meeting, the attacks began from both sides. Tamara Draut of Demos, a liberal think tank, called the commission members "out of touch" and said their plan "ignores the need for immediate public investments to spur job creation, relies too heavily on discretionary spending cuts, and slashes Social Security at a time when fewer Americans can count on a secure retirement." On the right, Anton Davies of George Mason University called the spending cuts "window dressings," arguing that the commission has proposed only "one-tenth of what we need to balance the budget."

Yet even outside the hearing room one does feel the slow gathering of a consensus, like wisps of humid air before a storm. Among the bellwethers in determining if that consensus ever gathers force will be Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling, both of whom withheld their final votes on the plan but made positive noises that clearly delighted Bowles and Simpson. "I believe this commission has been a success," said Ryan, echoing Bowles' sentiment that "it has helped us move this conversation more to the adult level." Hensarling actually suggested that he’d "like to see this plan come to the floor," albeit likely without his vote. [my emphasis]
In the Bizarro world of the Beltway Village, being criticized by "both sides" is a virtue in itself. here how it works:

Liberal: The sky is blue.

Conservative: No, the sky is yellow.

Pod Pundit: The great Maverick John McCain says the sky is green, and he's being attacked "from both sides." This shows the Maverick's greatness and seriousness, being willing to reach across the aisle and deal with both sides. And he's proposed a reasonable compromise to have Congress officially declare the color of the sky an open question but to condemn calling the sky blue as dishonoring our troops. What a Maverick!

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