Those unusual grinding, flapping, and twirling noises that have been reported from different parts of the country for the past twenty four hours are coming from the graves of President Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, and assorted Representatives and Senators, including New York’s Robert Wagner. They are all turning in their graves. I guess they’ve heard the details of a draft proposal from the co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission, better known as the Catfood Commission. They were released to the press on Wednesday and the commentary since then has been loud, loud, loud.
For the most part, the blogger comments that I have read are resoundingly negative, particularly since the co-chairs have focused on entitlements--Social Security and Medicare--as prime places to tackle the federal budget deficit, although we all know--and those two chairs should certainly know--that Social Security is not in any trouble for the immediate future and, with just minor adjustments, not for the foreseeable future.
Two surprising reactions have come from our two national newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Both papers carried stories about the co-chairs' proposal and both, in their own ways, were shocking accounts.
The NYTimes presented us with a surprisingly sympathetic editorial. It starts with: [Here]
The draft proposal by the chairmen of President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission was a welcome antidote to the low-minded debate that dominated the midterm elections, in which politicians all vowed to reduce the deficit but offered no credible plans.
The proposal, released Wednesday, comes from [co-chair] Erskine Bowles, formerly the chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, and [co-chair] Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming. It frankly acknowledges what most politicians are too cowardly to admit — that deficit reduction will require shared sacrifice.”
And after discussing raising taxes, tax code simplification, and other ideas such as increased energy taxes and a VAT tax, cuts in military spending, Social Security and Health Care, the editorial concluded with: [Here]
As we read the chairmen’s proposal, we had one very strong reaction: We hoped the Republicans would pause long enough in their gleeful planning of President Obama’s final defeat, and the Democrats would stop wringing their hands, long enough to read this important document — and then act on it.
The Times does not favor us with any of the intelligent discussion that bloggers (and their own Paul Krugman) have given us over the past months about, for example, Social Security's viability. I wonder why. By the way, in his Wednesday’s NYTimes blog, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” Krugman wrote: [Here]
It’s here. And it really is that bad. The idea that co-chairs of a commission whose charge is fiscal sustainability should take it upon themselves to (a) declare that federal revenue must not exceed 21 percent of GDP — that’s right, putting a cap on receipts and (b) call for reducing the top rate from 35 to 23 is just awesome.
(We can’t wait for some further Krugman comments. Perhaps we’ll be treated to some in his Friday or Monday columns.)
On to the Washington Post, whom we expected to be aglow with admiration for the Commission’s co-chairs’ remarks. In the past, the paper has snuggled up to Pete Peterson. As you know, Peterson is a leading foe of Social Security and is armed with the very richly-endowed Peterson Foundation to get the job done.
But to our amazement the Post ran a very critical piece about how the Commission has been staffed and the essay is an eye-opener. After first saying that the Commission has “sparked criticisms from both sides of the political aisle "...for proposing broad cuts to federal programs,” the report went on to tell us: [Here]
But the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has also come under attack for its unusual approach to staffing: Many of its employees aren't employed by the panel at all.
Instead, about one in four commission staffers is paid by outside entities, many of which have strong ideological points of view about how to tackle the deficit.
For example, the salaries of two senior staffers, Marc Goldwein and Ed Lorenzen, are paid by private groups that have previously advocated cuts to entitlement programs. Lorenzen is paid by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, while Goldwein is paid by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is also partly funded by the Peterson group.
Gulp! Do we need to know any more?
And why didn’t the White House know about this and if they did, why didn’t someone blow a whistle? Letting in Peterson’s people to do the Commission’s staff work is giving the fox keys to the chicken house.
Thank you, Washington Post. At least someone is paying attention.
And just when is the President due back home?...