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Maybe “SAFE” Is Considered Code for “Destroy”?

June 26th, 2008 . by economistmom

This week the House Budget Committee held a hearing on the “Securing America’s Future Economy” (SAFE) Commission Act (H.R. 473), as a favor to Jim Cooper, the House sponsor of the bill and a Blue Dog member of the Budget Committee.  Here’s the Peter G. Peterson Foundation press release on the testimony of Peterson and David Walker.  From the Congressional Research Service summary of the legislation:

Securing America’s Future Economy Commission Act, or SAFE Commission Act - Establishes the Securing America’s Future Economy (SAFE) Commission to develop legislation designed to address: (1) the unsustainable imbalance between long-term federal spending commitments and projected revenues; (2) increases in net national savings to provide for domestic investment and economic growth; (3) the implications of foreign ownership of federally issued debt instruments; and (4) revision of the budget process to place greater emphasis on long-term fiscal issues.

Requires the Commission to: (1) develop one or two methods for estimating the cost of legislation as an alternative to the current Congressional Budget Office (CBO) method; and (2) hold at least one town-hall style public hearing within each federal reserve district.

Requires the Commission to submit a legislative proposal to Congress and the President. Authorizes the President to submit to Congress an alternative proposal. Authorizes the Committee on the Budget of either chamber to publish its own alternative proposal in the Congressional Record.

Sets forth procedures for consideration of such legislation.

Requires CBO to prepare a long-term cost estimate and have it published in the Congressional Record as expeditiously as possible whenever requested to do so by the Commission, the President, or the chairman or ranking minority member of the Committee on the Budget of either chamber.

Now, to this economist, that sounds completely reasonable, but I know there are many members of Congress who oppose the formation of such a commission.  There are 95 House cosponsors, including many Blue Dog Democrats, but also some Democrats who aren’t Blue Dogs–probabaly considered more liberal than the Blue Dogs–but also some very conservative Republicans.  It is indeed a rather strange group of bedfellows.  I used to think those who opposed the SAFE commission were doing so on process grounds, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been too naive– that maybe the motive for some of that opposition, and maybe for some of the promotion as well, is on ideological grounds.

That feeling was clued into me through the responses here to my “Young People Get It” thread, and through a thread started by Pete Davis on Capital Gains and Games and then continued in threads started by Pete’s co-bloggers, Andrew and Stan (thanks, guys).  I now get the sense (duh?) that many of those who oppose the SAFE commission believe that the commission is intended to destroy Social Security as we know it.

I’m starting to understand the sensitivity of folks to the fiscal hawks’ lumping together of Social Security with the health entitlement programs when we talk about the unsustainability of the overall federal entitlement system.  And we fiscal hawks do certainly already understand that the overall challenge comes mostly (but not entirely) on the health costs side.  I think it’s that some of us are concerned that it’s the overall challenge that really threatens the health of all of the entitlement programs, because it’s the overall challenge that severely threatens the future economic growth that is needed to keep the programs that now don’t look so badly off (i.e., Social Security) on strong footing.

So it’s obvious that this is a conversation we need to get into more.  Thanks to all who have commented here and elsewhere in the blogosphere for making this a priority for me and for Concord. 

Now, back to my vacation!

5 Responses to “Maybe “SAFE” Is Considered Code for “Destroy”?”

  1. comment number 1 by: Ken Houghton

    When you release a political document that declares the NEED for examining the “unsustainable imbalance between long-term federal spending commitments and projected revenues” and call for “increasing net national savings” now, you’ll have to forgive the rest of us for assuming you’re trying to rob and pillage.

    Does calling yourself a “fiscal hawk” mean you’re allowed to encourage robbing and pillaging social security because you want to use the monies for other purposes, in the name of “saving” the system?

    Where were these fiscally-responsible “very conservative Republicans” in 2001 and 2003? Giving monies to your bosses at Concord also in the name of increasing net national savings–that worked well) and doing their damnedest to ignore the “long-term fiscal issues.”

    First you rob the Treasury, now you want to tell the victims to pay for it because we “can no longer afford it.”

    When did “fiscal hawk” become a codeword for “robber baron”? Was it before or after John Boehner signed on?

  2. comment number 2 by: B Davis

    Ken Houghton wrote:

    When you release a political document that declares the NEED for examining the “unsustainable imbalance between long-term federal spending commitments and projected revenues” and call for “increasing net national savings” now, you’ll have to forgive the rest of us for assuming you’re trying to rob and pillage.

    Does calling yourself a “fiscal hawk” mean you’re allowed to encourage robbing and pillaging social security because you want to use the monies for other purposes, in the name of “saving” the system?

    I see nothing to be gained by accusing those who discuss reform as trying to “rob and pillage” Social Security. One could just as well accuse those who oppose any change as wanting to lock in the “robbing and pillaging” of the next generation through higher payroll taxes and/or interest on the national debt. Such incendiary terms accomplish nothing.

    Where were these fiscally-responsible “very conservative Republicans” in 2001 and 2003? Giving monies to your bosses at Concord also in the name of increasing net national savings–that worked well) and doing their damnedest to ignore the “long-term fiscal issues.”

    First you rob the Treasury, now you want to tell the victims to pay for it because we “can no longer afford it.”

    The one thing that I agree on is that Social Security should not be used to bail out problems in the general fund. As I said here, I think that Social Security should be able to cash in all of the bonds it holds in its trust fund but should be put on a glide path such that no sudden cuts in benefits are necessary. On the topic of “robbing the Treasury”, I would support putting the Social Security trust fund into a “lockbox”, at least in the accounting sense. The current system under which Social Security surpluses are borrowed to mask the true size of the deficit tends to promote fiscal irresponsibility as it allows politicians to say that the deficit is smaller than it really is. Of course, this lie will be revealed in all its glory when Social Security begins to cash in its bonds.

  3. comment number 3 by: Bruce Webb

    I would only add one thing. If you look at the federal budget from a progressive perspective it is clear that movement conservatives insist on splitting spending into two categories.

    Category one: Spending we can NOT afford to cut.

    Category two: Spending we CAN’T NOT afford to cut.

    This is what gets them to explain that it doesn’t matter how many Bn’s it costs we just can’t not afford every single piece of military equipment out there. It’s national defence you know? But then they get to strain and moan at Hillary’s trying to earmark $1 mn for a museum. It is what allows Bush to announce with pride that he is committing $200,000,000 in world food aid. My what a generous people we are! While ignoring the fact that we are probably losing any times this amount every month in Iraqi graft and corruption. Because the latter, however wasted is at least tangentially related to national defence. Haven’t you heard of Islamofascism!

    After twenty five years of this you begin to understand that for people like Norquist ‘Big Government’ does not include much related to the Military-Industrial complex and that few Blue Dogs or Economic Conservatives work themselves up much about pallets of hundred dollar bills going missing in Iraq. There seems to be some selective outrage going on when it comes to waste, fraud and abuse.

    When you get reports that the IRS has shifted resources from auditing multi-millionaires to try to identify EITC fraud you begin to wonder where the priorities are, is it really smaller, more efficient government they want? Or a rollback of the Great Society and then the New Deal?

    When you have a party and an ideological movement that actively worked and voted against the introduction of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, it is hard to just accept “Trust me, we just want to make it better”.

  4. comment number 4 by: M Gilleland

    Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid although well intentioned and a great help to millions of American citizens (despite it being a taking of private property and a material impact to individual liberty) now seem ill-conceived given a demographic bulge, aging population, relatively high rates of chronic illness in the general population (Americans aren’t the healthiest bunch) and high rates of health care cost increases.

    The fact is reform is required – either Congress can address this proactively with leadership from the President or financial markets and capital flows will eventually force reform upon us (assuming taxpayers don’t revolt first.) I’d prefer that the president and congress educate Americans broadly about the problem, we work towards a compromise, address the problem, and move on because the alternative as I see it is much worse for all of us if we remain ideologically gridlocked in our positions.

    Mrs. Rogers (economistmom), thanks for raising my awareness about HR 473/3654. I noticed that my congressman is not one of the co-sponsors and have already dropped him a note to encourage that to change.

  5. comment number 5 by: economistmom

    Bruce Webb had wrote:
    “..few Blue Dogs or Economic Conservatives work themselves up much about pallets of hundred dollar bills going missing in Iraq. There seems to be some selective outrage going on when it comes to waste, fraud and abuse.”

    Just in defense of the Blue Dogs, I think it’s pretty obvious they are pretty darn outraged about how much money we’ve been spending in Iraq–whether it’s money gone missing due to true fraud or money spent for legitimate causes (such as veterans benefits) that they feel should still be paid for rather than deficit financed.