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December 3, 2010

Hidden Agendas Killed The Deficit Commission

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (“Deficit Commission”) was charged with coming up with a plan to reduce the budget deficits and accumulated debt caused by tax cuts for the rich and military spending increases. It was supposed to come up with a bipartisan package that, taken as a whole, would get votes from both sides of the aisle. It was supposed to vote by Dec. 1, and it was only supposed to issue recommendations if they got 14 votes.

It didn’t work out that way. Dec. 1 has passed and the out-of-business commission apparently can’t get the required 14 votes. The commission has failed.

What happened? Two hidden agendas were brought to the table, undermining the commission's work. Both come from longstanding campaigns by corporate-backed conservatives to undermine trust in, and ultimately defund democratic government. The first was an attack on Social Security. The second was a demand for even more tax cuts for the rich. It is no surprise that these undermined the deficit commission; the well-funded corporate-conservative anti-government agenda now undermines every effort to govern our country, solve our problems and help our people.

From the start it was clear that the agenda to undermine Social Security was going to be a problem for the commission. Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson’s Foundation, whose ongoing mission seems to be to turn Social Security over to Wall Street, was involved from the start (in many ways instigating the idea), even providing the commission with free staff. Peterson also launched a concurrent, multi-front public relations campaign involving town hall meetings, planting “news” stories – even starting its own "news" outfit, and releasing various “reports” calling for Social Security cuts.

The commission did not help itself. After getting off to a slow start, the commission met in secret and maintained an elite attitude, undermining its credibility with the public. It ignored deficit and debt solutions the public favors, instead spending much of its time and energy on Social Security, which by law cannot borrow so it cannot add to the deficit. The focus appeared to be ideological, never addressing the fallout of the financial crisis or proven debt solutions like investing to grow the economy which reduces the debt's percentage of GDP, and creating jobs which brings in additional tax revenue.

Members even insulted citizens and mocked their concerns. In June Commission co-chair Alan Simpson ranted at Alex Lawson of Social Security Works on camera, making it clear that the co-chair of the commission did not understand basic facts about the way Social Security is funded!

As CAF's Richard Eskow explained at the time in his post, Simpson's Social Security Video Rant: Why It's Important,

But, while Simpson's outrageousness makes the video entertaining, here's what makes it important: Alan Simpson is one of two chairs of a bipartisan commission created by President Obama to study the Federal deficit. His comments reveal a number of very important things about his biases, his tendency to distort and mislead, and his ideological extremism. These traits are likely to taint the Commission's work - work which has great implications for the future.

Now it is that future and the commission has failed.

Then there was Simpson’s famous “milk cow with 310 million tits” comment that angered women, all sane people, and probably even the dairy industry. See"310 Million Tits" - If Simpson Doesn't Resign, The President Must Fire Him, by Richard Eskow, Milk Cow Blues: Why The Alan Simpson Flap Won't Go Away by Richard Eskow and Women Confront Deficit Commission Over Social Security by some guy.

Then, to make matters worse, in September another agenda surfaced when some commission members insisted that the commission propose tax cuts for the rich. As Talking Points Memo reported at the time,

Republicans on President Obama's fiscal commission, which is tasked with coming up with ways to reduce the deficit, have privately argued in official meetings that the panel should recommend further corporate and capital gains tax cuts as part of its mandate. The panel has been charged with raising revenues and cutting spending, to bring the federal budget into greater balance. But if Republican members are successful, their advocacy would result in either an unbalanced report, dedicated wholly to spending and benefit cuts -- or to gridlock and, thus, no recommendations at all.

Finally, when it was becoming clear last month that the commission was going to fail, its agenda-laden co-commissioners tried another path, releasing their own agenda packaged as commission recommendations but voted on by NO members of the commission. Of course the agenda included cuts in Social Security and tax cuts for the wealthy. As I wrote then, in Simpson & Bowles Show Deficit Commission Is Cover For An Agenda,

They have released their own “plan,” separate from what the deficit commission might release, allow the press to refer to it as the commission’s plan, and say they are sticking with it no matter what the commission does. Why? It is clear these two came into this with an agenda to attack Social Security, and are using their role on the commission as cover for their agenda.

[. . .] Agenda: Simpson and Bowles say they won’t compromise their plan to get 14 votes from the commission. What does that mean to a commission that is not supposed to release any plan without getting 14 votes? This clearly demonstrates that Simpson and Bowles have an agenda apart from the goals of the deficit commission.

As CAF's Terrance Heath wrote Tuesday in his post, America Speaks. Will Washington Listen?

On the one hand, the commission's co-chairs issued a chairman's mark that essentially painted a big fat bulls-eye on Social Security. On the other hand, the co-chairs went out of their way to separate Social Security from the mission of the deficit reduction. So, why include Social Security in a deficit reduction plan if Social Security has nothing to do with deficit reduction?

Maybe someone at the commission is half listening to what Americans are saying about Social Security. Numerous polls show a majority of Americans oppose cuts in Social Security — including cuts in benefits and cuts via raising the employment age. Our August 2010 joint poll with Democracy Corps showed that 68% of Americans oppose major cuts in Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit. Additionally, 65% oppose raising the Social Security retirement age. A poll by Social Security Works and Lake Research, conducted between October 31 and November 2, 2010, showed thatoverall 82% oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit, 63% oppose cutting Social Security benefits, and 69% oppose raising the retirement age. If the deficit commission and the administration were really listening to the American people, they'd take social security off the table.


The key point:
Again and again, Americans have spoken and said that they want their leaders to focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy. The existence of the deficit commission, let alone its co-chair's proposals, reflect that few in Washington are listening.

There are good proposals for cutting the deficit without gutting Social Security and the middle class, while further enriching the already-wealthy:

  • First, read the proposal of The Citizens’ Commission On Jobs, Deficits And America’s Economic Future
  • Our Fiscal Security, a collaborative effort of Demos, the Economic Policy Institute, and The Century Foundation released a blueprint titled, Investing in America’s Economy.
  • Deficit commission member Jan Shakowsky offered a plan of her own.
  • Commission member Andy Stern has his, called The 21st Century Plan for America’s Leadership.

  • So at least in these proposals there is a path forward following the failure of the commission.

    Is there a lesson to learn from the failure of the deficit commission? If so, it is the same lesson that can be learned by the ongoing failure of our Congress and entire political system. The corporate/conservative agenda to undermine and defund democratic government is dividing us and making us fail as a country. Which, apparently, is the plan.

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    Posted by Dave Johnson at December 3, 2010 7:45 AM


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