Grand Bargain Redux

by digby

Here's the latest from The Peterson Billionaire Protection Society:

NEW YORK (November 30, 2009) – There is broad support among Democrats, Republicans and Independents for a bipartisan fiscal commission to address America’s growing debt and deficit challenges according to a new poll commissioned by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The poll also shows that Americans believe dealing with the debt and deficit should be a top priority and that leaders in Washington are not paying enough attention to this issue.

“The bottom line is that the American electorate is way ahead of Washington policymakers—many of whom don’t seem to realize that we can’t spend and borrow our way to prosperity,” said David M. Walker, President & CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “Tough choices must be made in connection with budget controls, entitlement reforms, spending constraints and revenue increases. A special bipartisan commission is needed to engage the American people in a discussion about comprehensive reforms and to make a range of recommendations for action by the Congress.”

There is growing recognition among policymakers on both sides of the aisle that a bipartisan commission is the best way to address the fiscal crisis. It was recently reported that the Obama Administration is giving serious consideration to establishing a special commission to address America’s large and growing structural deficits and debt burdens.

The commission would consider policy options on budget controls, reforms to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other spending and tax reforms. Unlike the regular process that Congress currently uses to consider legislative proposals, Congress would be required to vote on the recommended package of reforms from the Commission, with limited opportunity to make changes.
I know it's boring to harp on this but as someone who lives in California and has seen the results of hamstringing government into total incoherence with gimmicks like this it is a terrifying prospect. So, I'll (probably foolishly) reprise a piece of a post I wrote last January on this subject after I read E.J. Dionne's column about Obama's plan to enact a "Grand Bargain":

Unfortunately, it would appear that Obama is going to go to China --- or rather, he's going to "reform entitlements," which is the Democratic equivalent. Dionne reports that they've adopted Stephanopoulos' characterization of a Grand Bargain (which just shows that the beltway echo chamber is in full effect.) Obama told the Washington Post today that he's doing this in order to prove to somebody (who I'm not sure) that he is "serious."

Obama To Hold Fiscal Responsibility Summit

President-elect Barack Obama will convene a "fiscal responsibility summit" in February designed to bring together a variety of voices on solving the long term problems with the economy and with a special focus on entitlements, he said during an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors this afternoon.

"We need to send a signal that we are serious," said Obama of the summit.

Those invited to attend will include Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), ranking minority member Judd Gregg (N.H.), the conservative Democratic Blue Dog coalition and a host of outside groups with ideas on the matter, said the president-elect.

Obama's comments came in a wide-ranging, hour-long interview that came just five days before he will be inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States and become the first African American to hold that title.

Obama said that he has made clear to his advisers that some of the difficult choices--particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare - should be made on his watch. "We've kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road," he said.
Normally another Democratic run bipartisan commission on social security reform wouldn't alarm me so much as annoy me. After all, Clinton was forced by the incoherent "centrist" Bob Kerrey into appointing a social security commission and Bush promised to appoint one after the failure of his attempt to privatize the system. But this time could be different. The scope and complexity of the economic crisis could lead to politicians rushing forward with some bad plans just to appear to be doing something.

I believe that everything about this is a huge mistake. It validates incorrect right wing economic assumptions, incorporates their toxic rhetoric about "entitlements," focuses on the wrong problems and continues the illusion that social security is in peril when it isn't. The mantra of shared sacrifice sounds awfully noble, but it isn't very reassuring to talk about the government going broke at the moment, particularly when the cause of our problems isn't the blood-sucking parasites who depend on government insurance when they can't work, but rather the handiwork of the vastly wealthy who insist on operating without restraint and refuse to contribute their fair share. I would have thought that a bipartisan commission on financial system reform might have at least been on the agenda before social security.

Obama is empowering the Republicans and the Blue Dogs with this fiscal responsibility rhetoric and perhaps he believes they will reward him by acting in good faith. And maybe they will.Or perhaps he thinks he can jiu-jitsu the debate in some very clever way to actually bolster social security and enact universal health care. But it's a big risk. I believe that all this talk about "entitlements" and fiscal responsibility will make it much tougher to sell universal health care and easier to dismantle some of the safety net at a time when many people have just lost a large piece of their retirements, their jobs and their homes. It's very hard for me to understand why they think it's a good time to do this.

I know it's probably right that we give him a chance before we completely go postal about this, but I also know that if this were a Republican saying these things I'd certainly be doing everything in my power to oppose it. But then that's the beauty of the Nixon goes to China gambit, isn't it? It neatly shuts down the most fervent opposition. That's why it's so frightening. He might just get it done
Pete Peterson and the Republicans have brilliantly laid the groundwork for this. And I would bet you anything that they'll even take a short term hit on raising taxes on the wealthy if they can deal a death blow to what they call "entitlements."

Deficit neutral health care reform is supposed to be the sop to the left that makes this possible, by the way. Somehow, I don't think that's going to be convincing.