CommunityThe Bullpen

Pivoting Off the Pivot: Deficit Agenda Poised to Re-Enter Debate

The fact that Pete Peterson endorsed the American Jobs Act, and that he did so with a focus on an element not actually in the American Jobs Act, is pretty revealing.

President Obama rightly called for the ‘super-committee’ to go beyond its $1.5 trillion goal and find even more long-term deficit reduction. The President made a commitment to pay for the policies he proposed and put forward a detailed deficit reduction plan, which is a necessary ingredient in any effort to improve our economy. Everyone who has an interest in America’s economic health looks forward to hearing the President’s specific recommendations for addressing our long-term fiscal challenges.

Especially anyone on Pete Peterson’s payroll.

And this is the danger, the follow-on to the American Jobs Act. As Jon Walker reported, there are signs of support for raising the Medicare retirement age coming from a variety of corners, including the American Hospital Association, who are trying to save themselves from trigger cuts on reimbursement rates by sticking it to 65 and 66 year-olds. The report from Ways and Means Committee Democrats that included raising the eligibility age as an option is bad news too.

But there are other troubling signs. The New York Times declares the subject dead and buried and moves on to the mechanics rather than the question of whether we should slash the safety net at all.

In the presidential race, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, the Republican front-runner of the moment, took the debate over entitlements to a level never before seen from a major candidate, calling for the end of all three programs as currently structured. In his debate with Republican rivals Wednesday, he amplified his claims that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and a “monstrous lie” to younger Americans counting on the money for retirement. On Thursday, he circulated similar past criticisms from his chief rival, Mitt Romney, who defended Social Security in the debate.

At the same time, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill expressed a willingness to wring savings from the long-untouchable programs during the first meeting of the special committee that is charged with recommending $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions over the decade. Then President Obama, in his address to a joint session of Congress on spurring job creation, reiterated his call for a plan reducing long-term debt with both changes in entitlement programs and taxes from the wealthy.

Along with this elite rubber stamp on the entitlement cuts agenda, there have apparently been some secret meetings on deficit reduction among a couple dozen Senators:

More than two dozen senators from both parties met privately this week to revive hopes of a grand debt-cutting bargain — exploring how to push the newly formed debt “supercommittee” to find far more than its assigned goal of $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions.

The senators want at least $3 trillion slashed from the deficit over the next decade. In addition, they plan to press the committee to pass a major tax overhaul to lower rates and close special-interest loopholes, as well as changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare, according to several participants […]

“I don’t think I’m speaking out of school that it was a unanimous feeling among a large group of senators from both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of the meeting participants. “Most people are far more focused on this supercommittee than any speech the president’s going to give.”

So for all the talk one day after the jobs speech of a pivot, if on September 19 the President endorses serious safety net cuts, and if that becomes the topic du jour throughout the rest of the month in Washington, the pivot will pivot right back. And instead of a monomaniacal focus on jobs, the Democratic coalition will split apart again, with many desperately focused on saving the meager American safety net.

Previous post

Targeted Killing Program: America's Shameful Response to 9/11

Next post

The racial, cultrual, economic and historical basis for our current situation.

David Dayen

David Dayen