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CFR Chair Erskine Bowles: “I Personally Would Like to Go after Spending First”

With people finally paying attention to the atrociousness of Alan Simpson, I thought it’d be a good time to take a quick look at his partner, Erskine Bowles. Former investment banker, chief of staff to Clinton, and neoliberal Senate candidate, he’s revealed himself to be nothing less than a budget cutting fanatic.

You probably heard that he called our debt a "cancer." You might not be aware of his other recent pubic pronouncements. And mind you, he’s the Democrat chosen by Obama to head the commission.

On Fox News.

BOWLES: Chris, look, first of all, Al and I are 100 percent together. We’re a team. I know that sounds strange to Washington to have a Republican and a Democrat agreeing with each other, but we do. My strategy is the same as Al. Let’s make sure the American people know we have a looming crisis. To do that, we have to have a real set of numbers. That means using the actuarial numbers from Social Security and from Medicare, and using the numbers prepared by CBO that most people agree are correct, the Congressional Budget Office. And then once we have gotten real numbers out there, let’s see if we can persuade people to trust each other, come together, and really take some of these tough stands to bring down spending.

WALLACE: So you want to go after spending first before taxes?

BOWLES: Look, I think we have to go after everything. Everything has to be on the table, whether it’s revenue or spending. I personally would like to go after spending first.

Spending first? But I thought they were going to put together a package of both benefit cuts and tax increases. What’s going here?

Here’s what.

Bowles pointed to steps taken recently by the new coalition government in Britain, which also faces an acute budgetary problem, as a guide to what the commission might use in its recommendations. That would mean about three-quarters of the deficit reduction would be accomplished through spending cuts, and the remainder with additional revenue.

Okay, so maybe spending won’t be first; it will merely be emphasized so as not to raise taxes on the wealthy.

But what’s the end game here? What’s Bowles’s shooting for?


Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman of the bipartisan White House Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, floated a long-term goal of reducing federal spending to about 21% of U.S. gross domestic product, slightly above the recent norm but significantly lower than current spending projections.

Sounds reasonable enough. Only problem is, it would "end progressive ambition" and decimate the budget.

This sounds like a bookkeeping matter. But Bowles’ goal would end progressive ambition, ratify America’s declining competitiveness and bury the American dream.

Why? For starters, federal spending under Ronald Reagan averaged 22 percent of GDP. Under Bowles’ view, therefore, the outer limits of the Democratic Party’s 21st-century aspirations would be to run government at a size smaller than did a 20th-century conservative icon.

What’s more, Reagan ran government at this size at a time when 76 million baby boomers weren’t about to hit their rocking chairs. In 1988, 32 million retirees received Social Security and 33 million were on Medicare, our two biggest domestic programs. By 2020, about 48 million elderly Americans will receive Social Security, and 62 million Americans will be on Medicare (then the numbers really soar).

As a matter of math, if you run the government at a smaller level than did Ronald Reagan while accommodating this massive increase in the number of seniors on our health and pension programs, you have to decimate the rest of the budget.

So if the Democratic co-chair of Obama’s Debt Commission were to have his way, he would decimate not just Social Security but the entire federal budget.

The Catfood Commission, Where Everything’s on the Table, including Meow Mix.


Just Shut it Down.

[Ed note: bumped from August 27, 2010 7:28 pm]

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