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Warner, Chambliss Go Public with Their Cat Food Road Show

We already knew plenty about Warner-Chambliss, the move by two Senators to revive the cat food commission and push through the Bowles-Simpson report. Bowles and Simpson are giving them a hand with that with something called the “Moment of Truth Project,” in conjunction with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Pete Peterson outfit (in case you were wondering how stacked the deck was on that commission). At a time when the two parties can’t come up with a budget for the rest of the fiscal year, these two Senators want to make sweeping, long-term changes to reduce budgets by $4 trillion, and alter both Social Security and Medicare in the process.

Warner and Chambliss, along with four former members of the cat food commission, had been holding their “Gang of 6” meetings in private and shielding themselves from the media. That changed Monday, as they tried to make a big splash and show off their bravery.

Two senators — Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia — held an unusual bipartisan forum here on Monday before an overflow crowd of more than 200 Virginia business leaders. They will hold a similar event next month in Atlanta.

Mr. Warner and Mr. Chambliss will continue working privately with four other senators — two from each party, all of them former members of the Bowles-Simpson commission — to write legislation based on the panel’s recommendations.

Such efforts face a hard slog not only on Capitol Hill, but also among the public. Polls consistently show that Americans want the White House and Congress to rein in the mounting long-term federal debt. Yet by large majorities they oppose many specific proposals to reduce the future costs of Medicare and Medicaid and to ensure Social Security’s long-term solvency.

In their remarks here, Mr. Warner and Mr. Chambliss acknowledged the hurdles but insisted that Americans were ahead of their elected officials in being ready to take the necessary steps. And they separately criticized the positions of many in their own parties.

Two things here, based on what I bolded. First, this conversation is not being had with a large cross-section of the American public, but with small groups of business leaders. In case you were concerned that American politics caters too much to the needs of business.

Second, the juxtaposition of those last two paragraphs is priceless. The NYT shows verifiable data, reproduced in all major polls, that the public doesn’t want Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security cut. The NYT could go further and mention what else the polls show – that the public wants to raise taxes on millionaires. By a pretty wide margin. But in the very next paragraph, Warner and Chambliss use the old politician saw that the public is ahead of the elected officials on this one.

And indeed they are, but not in the way that Warner and Chambliss think. The public doesn’t want their retirement security put into jeopardy when taxes are at a 60-year low. They want a focus on jobs before deficits.

Also, note in this article on the same event, where Chambliss boasts that he is putting revenue “on the table” and then saying that he would never vote to raise tax rates:

“Everything is on the table,” Chambliss said. “For a Republican to put revenues on the table is significant. For a Democrat to put entitlements on the table is significant. But Mark and I believe and know in our hearts that the only way we’re going to solve this problem is to have a dialogue about these issues.” […]

“None of us have ever voted for a tax increase, and I don’t intend to,” Chambliss said Monday. But the tax system is “way out of kilter,” producing $1.1 trillion in revenue in 2009 while giving away $1.6 trillion in deductions and other breaks, he added. “We can do it in a fair and reasonable way and . . . actually lower rates and at the same time raise revenues.”

In general I don’t disagree about raising revenues by broadening the base and closing loopholes. There’s also a role for enforcement, i.e. actually collecting what is owed to the government. But the idea that it’s brave for Chambliss to announce he’d be OK with revenue increases will remaining steadfast on NEVER voting to increase taxes is absurd. Once again, it’s the Democrat giving everything up in this fight, working to cut Social Security and Medicare, while the Republican gets off without a scratch.

As Michael Moore said in Madison, the country is not broke. The deficit is a challenge that pales in comparison to actually getting 15 million people back to work. In fact, the more job growth generated, the more that deficit evaporates. And you don’t have to threaten the programs people worked all their lives to attain along the way.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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