Before tomorrow’s expected executive order establishing a commission to reduce the debt, the White House has leaked the names of who will chair the commission, former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson.
Neither appointment will make progressive hearts go aflutter, but does this mean that the deck will be stacked in favor of deficit hysterics who want to gut Social Security and Medicare?
First, note that Simpson and Bowles are not cut from the same cloth. Simpson has the longer track record as an opponent of Social Security.
Dean Baker today revisits Simpson’s attempt in the 1990s to slash Social Security benefits by pegging increases below the rate of inflation.
MyDD’s Jonathan Singer dusted off an interview he did with Simpson five years ago, in which Simpson employed typical generational scare tactics, telling his younger interviewer, “Guys your age will be eaten alive in regard to money” if Congress hasn’t “done anything on Social Security.”
Bowles was described by BusinessWeek during the Clinton era as “Corporate America’s Friend in the White House” and who was “adamant about finding a bipartisan, long-term fix for the financial problems of both Medicare and Social Security.”
But when he ran for the Senate in 2004, Bowles did not employ scare rhetoric to gut our pillars of retirement security. On the contrary, he pledged to “fight to protect Social Security and Medicare by opposing efforts to privatize them.”
So Bowles may not be where Simpson is. But neither does he have a deep record opposing deficit hysteria.
The question remains: when the rest of the 16 members of the commission are names, will we have a panel that brings together the full range of views regarding the deficit?
Or will the deck be stacked? Will economic experts who contend that deficit concerns are being overblown, that Social Security is sound and that broader health care reform is the ultimate deficit cutter be shut out of the panel?
President Obama has four more people to pick. The other 12 will be named by congressional leaders and will be sitting congresspeople.
That means two things.
1. Recipe For Futility. Most likely, Republican leaders will pick die-hard obstructionist conservatives. And Democratic leaders will include at least some strong defenders of Social Security and Medicare. So not only can the deck not be completely stacked, it is incredibly unlikely that there will be enough consensus for the commission to get the 14 votes needed to submit recommendations to Congress.
If that further confirms the futility of superficial bipartisanship, that’s a good thing.
2. Only Obama Can Pick Experts. Only President Obama has the ability to pick outside experts. If there is going to be renowned economists on the panel who will defend retirement security and make the case against deficit hysteria — such as Paul Krugman, James Galbraith, Larry Mishel or Dean Baker — Obama has to make that pick.
The risk if he doesn’t is that all the so-called “experts” will be deficit hysterics who will have an enhanced platform to deploy false scare rhetoric, forcing enough Democratic congresspeople to go along for the ride into the austerity abyss.
If Obama doesn’t, it makes it even more imperative for Democratic congressional leaders to name panelists that can effectively stand up to fiscal smears and fears.
We’ll find out soon enough, though maybe not tomorrow. CQ reports: ”It’s not clear if Obama will announce all six of his picks this week or just Bowles and Simpson, according to aides. Congressional leaders are not expected to name their members this week.”