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Rivlin: “Stars Aligned” for Cat Food Commission Cuts to Social Security

Alice Rivlin reports from inside the Cat Food Commission’s war room:

A key Democrat on President Obama’s deficit commission predicted on Wednesday that the bipartisan panel would come up with recommendations to shore up Social Security. “The stars are aligned,’’ said Alice Rivlin, a former budget director under President Clinton and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“I do expect that some long-run changes in Social Security, both on the benefit side and on the revenue side, are likely to be part of a package,” she continued, speaking at a forum hosted by AARP, the lobbying group for senior citizens. “This is a convenient moment to do this. The only better time to fix Social Security than this year is last year or the year before.”

Rivlin has waited for much of her professional life for this moment to cut Social Security benefits. Imagine if that was your life’s goal. You’d want to do or say anything to reach an agreement, too.

The problem is that we have no independent assessment of Rivlin’s claims. We cannot possibly have one. The Cat Food Commission’s meeting rooms have been hermetically sealed, with no access for the public, who will have to live with the consequences of the recommendations. But we did learn in this article that Rivlin co-chairs the working group on Social Security and Medicare, along with Judd Gregg. And given what we know about these two, I’d say her claim that benefit and revenue solutions would be included in the recommendation is spurious. Judd Gregg wouldn’t raise taxes in a million years. And Rivlin clearly cares more for cuts than revenue increases.

About the only positive I can see from Rivlin’s comments is that she has been so wrong about political predictions before, that a vote of confidence from her on the Cat Food Commission’s progress could easily be its death knell. The other positive? No way that post-Tea Republicans will vote for any kind of tax increase, lowering the bar for progressives to kill the recommendations in a lame-duck session.

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David Dayen

David Dayen