Thursday, December 10, 2009

Entitlement commission neutered



On a day when Markos Moulitos, proprietor of Daily Kos and loyal Democrat, calls the emerging health bill "a turd of a 'reform' package," here's some good news for a change. A couple of Senators, Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, have been fronting for the idea of an "entitlement" commission to "reduce the deficit." This is not going to happen -- at least for now.

The idea is the brain child of Wall Street robber baron Peter G. Peterson; he figures too much taxpayer money is going into the general welfare functions of government like Social Security and Medicare. He wants to cut those programs to "reduce the deficit" -- to pay for endless non-essential wars and military outposts and for the refusal of rich people to pay taxes.

That would be hard for politicians to do directly -- if people could see what their elected officials were doing, they not only would throw the bums out, they might also pelt them with eggs and tomatoes. So the idea is appoint an commission to recommend cutting safety net programs to pay bondholders and make the recommendations something Congress would have to vote on without amendments or filibusters. We can't have health care by majority vote -- oh no, that would violate sacred traditions of the Senate. But we can make the old folks eat cat food by majority vote; that would be wise solons at their work.

For awhile, it looked like Conrad and Gregg were making some headway, but today there are reports here and here, that the terrible twosome have built such a ridiculous contraption as to render it harmless for the moment. Apparently their commission proposal would require super majorities in both the House and Senate to enact anything it comes up with -- not likely.

Still, this is a threat that deserves vigilance. Bad ideas that enable politicians to do bad things without public notice have a way of recurring. Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By has an excellent overview of the issues with many links to relevant articles.

But isn't it true that we have to do something to reduce the federal deficit? Well, maybe in the long term. In the short term as the President is now saying loudly, the best way to reduce federal borrowing is to get the economy moving again so people can work and pay taxes. But also, in the longer term, there are lots of good ideas for reducing the deficit. Jeffrey Frankels from the Kennedy School at Harvard has made ten suggestions. Underlying the best ones are the two principles I've been enumerating over the last few days:
  • We need to tax people more who have more money than they need.
  • We need to stop paying for a bloated military, especially for non-essential wars and bases in other peoples' countries.
That's all too "radical" for anyone in Congress, but those are principles that could begin to restore community in this country.

1 comment:

Ronni Bennett said...

They've kind of sunk their own ship - Gregg and Conrad - for now, anyway, and it couldn't happen to a better pair.

You're right; we need to keep our eye on them.

I too think the deficit can wait for the long term. Jeffrey Frankels ideas are excellent.

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