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!