It’s come to this: At a strange and bitter press conference this afternoon (where they even accused their opponents of “racism”), the co-chairs of the Presidential Deficit Commission laid out a proposal that literally meets the dictionary definition of extremism. They’ve apparently rewritten the Executive Order creating their Commission, too, so if enough Commission members back their proposal it could become law. That would spell long-term defeat for the Democratic Party. More importantly, it would create misery for generations to come.
The only four people who can prevent this disaster are the four Democratic members of the Deficit Commission who have yet to stake a clear position on this proposal: Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. Max Baucus, Sen. Dick Durbin, and Rep. Xavier Becerra. They need to hear from intelligent, sober-minded people who will encourage them to take a brave stand against these destructive ideas. (Their phone numbers are below.)
ex·trem·ist (x-strmst): n. One who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm, especially in politics. 
Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are pushing ideas that lie well outside the norms that have governed mainstream politics for the last 75 years. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed a Social Security advisory council back in 1959, for example, which disproved many of the talking points Bowles and Simpson are still using today.
That hasn’t stopped them. And if their positions are out of step with political orthodoxy, they’re even further out of step with public opinion. They want to cut Social Security to decrease the deficit – a move that’s even opposed by most Tea Partiers. Washington ireporters and politicians get upset when anybody but one of them uses the word “extremist.” But what’s a better word?
When you’re too right-wing for the Tea Party, it’s official: You’re an extremist.
As we reported elsewhere, 67% of the public opposes Social Security cuts. 69% are against raising the retirement age. 79% are against cutting Medicare. How many of these ideas are likely to be in the Simpson/Bowles proposal?
All of them.
And it gets worse – much worse. Simpson and Bowles kept repeating a new slogan for tax expenditures – “tax earmarks” – for the deductions familiar to most Americans. That term sounds like it was dreamed up by the same Pete Peterson consultant who came up with the tin-eared “Owe No” slogan, but the co-chairs repeated it as if it were the Lord’s Prayer. “Senate earmarks only cost $16 billion a year,” they said, “but ‘tax earmarks’ cost $1.1 trillion.” They hinted strongly that they intended to recommend ending all tax expenditures.
What would that mean? Ending the mortgage interest credit would push millions more struggling homeowners underwater, triggering another wave of foreclosures. Ending the child tax credit would push many families with children deeper into a financial quagmire. Ending the employer tax credit for health benefits would erode or completely end health benefits for 144 million Americans who are insured through their employer today (a number that has already been dropping rapidly).
Millions of lost jobs, millions of lost votes
The EPI had already estimated that the co-chairs’ proposal could cost 4 million jobs – and that was before the “tax earmark” routine. It’s no wonder that some Republicans, who have been chafing at the bit to do these things for ages, are egging on Obama and Senate Democrats to embrace their proposal. They would get policies their party financiers have craved for decades – and Democrats would take the fall.
These Republicans are like schoolkids urging the unpopular nerd to break the principal’s window. They’ll hear the satisfying sound of breaking glass, and they’ll get rid of a a pesky kid they didn’t want hanging around anyway.
ex·tremism: n. Any political theory favoring immoderate, uncompromising policies. 
Ideas aren’t bad just because they’re outside the political mainstream. All of the principles we hold dear as a nation probably were, at one time or another. But one of the striking things about this afternoon’s press conference was the vitriol and contempt that Simpson and Bowles slung at anyone who dares to react to their ideas with anything other than enthusiasm or submission. Dissent from their radical orthodoxy, as they presented it today, was an impermissible position that could only come from the basest of motives: “The far left and the far right have hired auditoriums to terrorize their minions,” said Simpson. (They often use false equivalence – pretending that conservatives are as outraged as progressives – to mask their positions.)
Who’s terrorizing who? The deficits are a “cancer,” they said. They’ll bring on a collapse that will come “all of a sudden” and “without warning.” “The era of deficit denial is over,” Smpson bragged – before adding, bizarrely, that their opponents were guilty of “racism” (no explanation was given) and were spreading “emotion, guilt, and fear.”
Among other things, this press conference was an admission of failure. As Atrios pointed out, the Executive Order creating their commission gave them clear direction: ” 14 out of 18 votes (are) needed to report recommendations, and recommendations must be reported to Congress by December 1, 2010. ” The co-chairs made it clear they don’t expect to win 14 votes and announced they would miss the date by which “recommendations must be reported.”
But rules are apparently for the little people. They’re forging ahead anyway, planning to submit a report that’s missed their deadline and failed to win enough votes for passage. The fact that their “report” isn’t an official report anymore, combined with their “immoderate, uncompromising” policy position, should be the end of the story. But we can’t be sure. President Obama’s wage freeze for Federal workers was an ill-advised nod to deficit hysteria, and an overly compliant Harry Reid told Bowles and Simpson that a vote on their proposed bill was possible next year. Those are warning signs that the Democrats may be preparing to do themselves – and everybody else – lasting harm.
The last line of defense
That’s where the rest of us come in.
Simpson and Bowles will use every vote they get as an affirmation that the Senate must vote on their extreme legislative draft. If it passes in the right-leaning Senate, the Boehner Congress could be a shoo-in. And the President cannot be counted upon to veto such a bill. These four Democrats are the last line of defense. They need to be reminded that there are better ways to manage the country’s finances (the Citizens’ Commission report on Jobs, Deficits, and America’s Economic Future is a great place to start.) They need to hear from thoughtful, rational citizens who can explain the serious flaws in the Simpson-Bowles proposal. In other words, they need to hear from you.
So why not call them? Sen. Conrad’s office number is (202) 224-2043. Sen. Baucus can be reached at (2020) 224-2651. Sen. Durbin’s number is (202) 224-2152. Rep. Becerra is at (202) 225-6235. Be respectful. They’re undoubtedly under extreme political pressure. Please call them. Let them know that if they resist this rush to fiscal extremism, millions of grateful Americans will have their back.
 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
 WordNet 3.0 © 2003-2008 Princeton University, Farlex Inc
This post was produced as part of the Strengthen Social Security campaign.