President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission, according to Glenn Greenwald and a growing chorus of commentators, will recommend cuts in Social Security benefits, even though such cuts will have little effect on the deficit. In a recent interview with Robert McChesney, Greenwald said that the plan to cut Social Security benefits is an “open secret” in Washington.
The plan is for the commission to return its recommendation after the midterm election, when a lame-duck Congress could enact legislation to implement benefit cuts, far enough ahead of the next election so that there will be time for the uproar to die down. With the commission meeting in secret, public discourse on such cuts is effectively precluded prior to the midterm.
Jane Hamsher says that “President Obama has packed the Debt Commission (also known as the cat food commission) with members who have an overwhelming history of support for both benefit cuts and privatization of Social Security.” (See chart of membership here).
“What Wall Street wants is to wind up with a good chunk of the Social Security trust fund in its own coffers. Where that intersects with the objectives of the commission remains to be seen, but the fact is that Obama has packed it with people who have a strong history of supporting both reducing benefits and privatization. Even the token “liberals” like Jan Schakowsky have a history of abandoning their strongest principles when the President asks it of them, and Dick Durbin is now telling “bleeding heart liberals” to be open to benefit cuts for the sake of the fiscal responsibility.”
Economist James Galbraith addressed the Deficit Commission in June, and chided them in the bluntest possible language:
“Your proceedings are clouded by illegitimacy. In this respect, there are four major issues.
“First, most of your meetings are secret, apart from two open sessions before this one, which were plainly for show. There is no justification for secret meetings on deficit reduction. No secrets of any kind are involved. Nothing you say will affect financial markets. Congress long ago — in 1975 — reformed its procedures to hold far more sensitive and complicated meetings, notably legislative markups, in the broad light of day.
“Secrecy breeds suspicion: first, that your discussions are at a level of discourse so low that you feel it would be embarrassing to disclose them. Second, that some members of the commission are proceeding from fixed, predetermined agendas. Third, that the purpose of the secrecy is to defer public discussion of cuts in Social Security and Medicare until after the 2010 elections. You could easily dispel these suspicions by publishing video transcripts of all of your meetings on the Internet, and by holding all future meetings in public. Please do so.
“Second, there is a question of leadership. A bipartisan commission should approach its task in a judicious, open-minded and dispassionate way. For this, the attitude and temperament of the leadership are critical.
“I first met Senator Simpson when we were both on Capitol Hill; at Harvard he became friends with my late parents. He is admirably frank in his views. But Senator Simpson has plainly shown that he lacks the temperament to do a fair and impartial job on this commission. This is very clear from the abusive response he made recently to Alex Lawson of Social Security Works, who was asking important questions about the substance of the commission’s work, as well as calling attention to the illegitimate secrecy under which you are operating.
“A general cannot speak of the President with contempt. Likewise the leader of a commission intended to sway the public cannot display contempt for the public. With due respect, Senator Simpson’s conduct fails that test.
“Third, most members of the Commission are political leaders, not economists. With all respect for Alice Rivlin, with just one economist on board you are denied access to the professional arguments surrounding this highly controversial issue. In general, it is impossible to have a fair discussion of any important question when the professional participants in that discussion have been picked, in advance, to represent a single point of view.
“Conflicts of interest constitute the fourth major problem. The fact that the Commission has accepted support from Peter G. Peterson, a man who has for decades conducted a relentless campaign to cut Social Security and Medicare, raises the most serious questions. Quite apart from the merits of Mr. Peterson’s arguments, this act must be condemned. A Commission serving public purpose cannot accept funds or other help from a private party with a strong interest in the outcome of that Commission’s work. Your having done so is a disgrace.”
” … if cuts are proposed and enacted in Social Security and Medicare, they will hurt millions, weaken the economy, and the deficits will not decline. It’s a lose-lose proposition, with no gainers except a few predatory funds, insurance companies, and such who would profit, for some time, from a chaotic private marketplace.”
Just to emphasize the seriousness of what’s at stake, here’s a graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: