Almost 40 progressive groups have signed on to an open letter rejecting the proposed panel from fiscal scolds in Congress which would expedite cuts to Medicare and Social Security. In strong language, the letter, sent to Congressional leadership and President Obama, opposes any “commission that would override the normal legislative process and replace it with expedited procedures prohibiting amendments and limiting debate.”

The co-signers include the Campaign for America’s Future, the originator of the document, and groups as varied as the AFL-CIO and Change To Win labor coalitions,, Common Cause, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women and dozens of others. Passing the entitlement commission over the opposition of this group would in effect be passing it against the wishes of the entire progressive base.

As Dean Baker points out, this commission is the brainchild of former Nixon cabinet official Pete Peterson, a Wall Street investment banker who has been trying to destroy Social Security and Medicare for two decades.

Peterson’s effort in this area are especially offensive because he personally has profited enormously from the “fund managers’ tax break,” a loophole in the tax code that allowed Peterson to be taxed at a lower rate than most school teachers and firefighters. Peterson not only personally profited from this tax break, he has lobbied Congress to ensure that it remains in the code for future Wall Street tycoons. No doubt much of the money he is using to cut retirees’ Social Security and Medicare are attributable to this loophole.

The text of the letter is below:

We write in strong opposition to proposals to create an entitlements or deficit-reduction commission that would override the normal legislative process and replace it with expedited procedures prohibiting amendments and limiting debate.

Those supporting this circumvention of the normal process have stated openly the desire to avoid political accountability. Americans—seniors, women, working families, people with disabilities, young adults, children, people of color, veterans, communities of faith and others—expect their elected representatives to be responsible and accountable for shaping such significant, far-reaching legislation.

Any deficit reduction measures should be carried out in a responsible manner, providing a fairer tax system and strengthening—rather than slashing—Social Security, Medicare and other programs that are vital to the middle class. And as unemployment continues to grow, we need a real debate about how to balance the need for economic recovery and productive public investment with the goal of long-term budget responsibility. The American people are likely to view any kind of expedited procedure, where most members are sidelined to a single take-it-or-leave-it vote, as a hidden process aimed at eviscerating vital programs and productive investment.

As you know, the current effort to reform the health care sector seeks to achieve reductions in Medicare spending, without cutting benefits. But the proposed budget commission—which will be viewed as a way to actually cut Medicare benefits, while insulating lawmakers from political fallout—could confuse people and undermine the reform effort. And an American public that only recently rejected privatization of Social Security will undoubtedly be suspicious of a process that shuts them out of all decisions regarding the future of a retirement system that’s served them well in the current financial crisis.

We urge you to act decisively to prevent the creation of such an extraordinary and undemocratic budget commission.

David Dayen

David Dayen