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Thursday, February 19, 2009


by digby

Hamsher has an update about the "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" that indicates to me that the administration is working on the fly. I think that the stuff we heard about the plan being the result of a small group within the White House operating without input in changing circumstances is the most likely explanation for why this thing is such a train wreck. Apparently, the story is changing from minute to minute, even about who's speaking at this thing and who is attending.

There's a big summit on "fiscal responsibility" happening on Tuesday that nobody knows almost anything about. Yesterday numerous sources in the health care policy world confirmed that the administration told them (again off the record) that Pete Peterson and Laura Tyson would be keynote speakers, and now both are saying they won't be speaking. According to the WSJ Obama told the Blue Dogs they had his permission to pursue legislation to create a panel whose recommendations on "long term deficit strains" would be subject to an up-or-down vote of Congress, and after Congressional leadership pitched a fit, that seems to be off the table too. But what are they going to talk about at this summit, and who is invited?

On a conference call today arranged by Campaign for America's Future that included Roger Hickey, Jamie Galbraith, Nancy Altman and Dean Baker, Roger said that several of them had been told they might be invited to the summit, but no formal invitation had been issued yet (though Pete Peterson has his invitation). And while they had initially been told that the summit would address Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which Ezra claims Orszag is desperately trying to separate), now they're hearing from administration sources that nobody is sure.

This is not the circumstance under which you want to meet with billionaires who have spent decades organizing for just such a moment. They know what they want down to the last penny. They have their marketing slogans all worked out. They have their "bipartisan" advocates. They have the villagers and the media, all believing one, simple thing: that the government is going broke because of "entitlement" spending. You don't face people like this not knowing exactly what it's about and what you hope to get out of it. It's not a friendly game of Twister. It's a death match.

Changing the term "entitlement reform" to mean "health care reform" may seem very,very clever I speculated that was their plan weeks ago. But I wouldn't count on it working. This is an extremely complicated thing to do and I can't say that I have seen any indication that the White House is prepared to carry out something so clever just yet. There's still quite a big learning curve there. Indeed, from the way it looks to me, there is a far better chance they are about to get punk'd by the Blue Dogs and the Fiscal Scolds into making a "Grand Bargain" that cuts the safety net just a tiny bit less than Pete Peterson wants them to. That doesn't seem too clever to me.

As Jamie Galbraith indicated, we are looking at a full-on economic meltdown right now and the last thing they need to do is start talking about "entitlement reform," whatever they want the word to mean. To any sentient person over the age of 40 it means cutting social security and that's the last thing they should be talking about in the middle of a recession. It's not good economics and it isn't good politics. Fuggedaboudit.