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Why the Commission Has Been a Good Thing

December 3rd, 2010 . by economistmom

I really can’t say it any better than these two have today– Senator Dick Durbin (a Democratic leader from Illinois) and my boss Bob Bixby (executive director of the Concord Coalition).

Senator Durbin explains his “yes” vote:

On Friday, when President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform gathers to consider a plan to bring our national debt under control, I will be voting yes. It was not an easy decision, and I know my vote will be widely criticized, but I believe it is the right thing to do.

The simple fact is this: America needs to grow our economy and reduce our $13.8 trillion debt.

This plan is not perfect, and it is certainly not the plan I would have written. But it will help put Americans back to work and it will reduce our federal debt dramatically. If we don’t act now — if we pass this issue on to another Congress, another generation — the tough choices we face now only get tougher…

The question my closest political friends are asking is this: Why is a progressive like Dick Durbin voting for this deficit commission report? First, all politicians, left or right, Democrat or Republican, have to acknowledge the deficit crisis our nation faces. Borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar we spend for missiles or food stamps is unsustainable. And being indebted for generations to China and OPEC does not make American a stronger nation.

When we engage in the critical decisions about our nation’s future budgets, I want progressive voices at the table to argue that we must protect the most vulnerable in our society and demand fairness in budget cuts.

My friend, mentor and former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, echoing former Sen. Paul Douglas , famously said: “To be a liberal doesn’t mean you’re a wastrel. We must, in fact, be thrifty if we are to be really humane.”

It’s time for all of us to come together to make hard choices. I am ready to do my part.

And Bob explains why the falling short of the “consensus” 14 votes shouldn’t be regarded as a “failure”–but instead that the support earned from a bipartisan majority of the commission’s members (11 of the 18) should be recognized as a pretty significant “success”:

Many skeptics thought President Barack Obama’s fiscal commission was a pointless exercise, doomed to failure on its assignment to develop a plan to rein in the massive federal deficits that are projected for the next decade and beyond.

But today a bipartisan majority of that panel proved the skeptics wrong, and the nation owes these commission members a debt of gratitude.

They have given their approval to a sweeping set of recommendations that would strengthen our economy, repair important programs for older Americans that are now threatened with insolvency, and protect our children and future generations from being saddled with trillions of dollars in additional debt.

To do this, they had to move beyond stale partisan rhetoric to confront the difficult choices and trade-offs that elected officials in both parties have long avoided. They had to turn a deaf ear to those at both ends of the political spectrum who urged them to ignore vast swaths of the federal budget. They had to look at all the options.

They had to accept the principle of shared sacrifice. And in the end they had to compromise, with each commission member accepting some elements of the plan that they didn’t like…

The commission majority, and particularly Co-Chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, deserve credit for their diligence and hard work in putting together a roadmap that offers the country at least one way out of the fiscal swamp. In addition, they provided a badly needed model for the sort of compromise and cooperation that will be needed to move the United States toward a more promising future.

More from me later on the “common ground” I see among all of the various fiscal plans that have been recently laid out for us.  There is a lot of reason for optimism.  Don’t let the grumpy, entrenched folks out there get you down.

14 Responses to “Why the Commission Has Been a Good Thing”

  1. comment number 1 by: AMTbuff

    I agree that this result is much better than we had any reason to expect. Yes, it dodges the inconvenient truth that government cannot afford to guarantee state of the art health care to everyone. But so does the Ryan plan.

    This is as good a plan as is possible for now. I believe that it accurately represents the priorities of the American people.

  2. comment number 2 by: Gipper

    I like the tax proposals the best. Broadening the base, lowering the rates, and eliminating deductions while increasing revenue collections to 21% of GDP is huge.

    I hope that the Republicans, and Democrats, change the tax conversation. Forget Bush vs. Clinton era tax regimes. Go with Simpson-Bowles and you’ll be essentially turning the chess board upside down and forcing the players to start a new game.

    The spending cuts aren’t nearly enough, but Simpson-Bowles could not possibly achieve consensus and do what was necessary on the spending side. PPACA (Obamacare) will have to be eliminated, but you could not expect Obama’s hand-picked chairmen to be so rude and recommend it.

    It remains for the Republicans to use the debt ceiling votes to push Obama against the wall to recommend spending cuts to reduce the deficit. And I don’t mean getting the deficit down to 3% of GDP. I mean getting it to 0% of GDP by 2030. Otherwise, we’re not really serious about this problem.

    If Obama could achieve that, then he’ll be remembered as a great President. It would be a far greater achievement than PPACA.

  3. comment number 3 by: marty weiss

    Sorry. I couldn’t disagree more.
    “Shared sacrifice” is a good idea, but this plan takes from the least and leaves those with the most unscathed.
    The Republican extortion of the unemployed to benefit the one percent of wealthiest is a perfect example. That one percent took eighty percent of all income increases since 1980. They own more than the bottom fifty percent of Americans. So show me their sacrifices. The commissioners evidently don’t need social security and can’t understand those who do. Sen. McCain is a good example. As a millionaire businessman, he still collects a salary as a Senator as well as twenty-nine thousand a year in social security benefits. He wouldn’t miss it. But most SS recipients barely get by, using every cent to pay all their expenses and having no savings or surplus. Show me Sen. McCain’s sacrifice.
    Exxon, after taking forty billion in profit in one year, paid no taxes, yet received $159 million in “tax refunds” from the gov’t. Show me the sacrifice of this inanimate entity predicated purely on profit, with no concern for social or environmental responsibility.
    No, Bowles-Erskine is an elitist perspective. They privatize profit and socialize costs. Just like industries that maintain profitability only by dumping their production costs in the air and water, Bowles-Erskine dumps corporate profit in corporate coffers and social costs of doing business in the public lap.
    Bowles-Erskine is social sewer gas. Don’t light a match. With friends like these… or perhaps I should refer to Bush, Jr., who made a surplus into the great recession. He and this plan are so messed up that a curse would be superfluous.


  4. Professor Emeritus Peter Bagnolo
    Creating Millions of New Jobs Now!
    White Paper By Professor Emeritus Peter Bagnolo

    SIMULTANEOUSLY REDUCE OIL EXPENDITURES & CREATE MILLIONS OF JOBS

    I have several suggestions for the President and congress.
    STEP 1
    Energy is expended 24/7/365 in homes and businesses and only a few hours a day in autos. We need to jump start the new construction and remodeling markets and put people to work. More workers, more investments and expenditures, more tax dollars, will create a better economy for all.

    STEP 2
    Therefore, create a Federal Bill requiring all new construction to consist of 8” walls instead of the current 3/3/4” and inside of those 8” walls, instead of the current R-13/R-17 insulation in walls and R-20 in ceilings, mandate using R-30 in walls and R-50 in ceilings. This will create huge energy savings and benefit sales and the market place but only if initiated within the Gestalt of this paper.

    In addition, mandate grants/tax credits to buyers for that and for Geothermal HVAC, along with Solar shingles or metal roof combinations. These improvements would reduce oil-based power by a considerable percentage over the years and would virtually eliminate power costs for those using them. In fact, most Electric companies pay those with such systems in place for their creation of excess electrical surplus/credits.

    Create additional Tax credits to buyers for remodeling older homes coming as close as possible to those energy savers shown above and be rid of the wasteful use of Forced Air HVAC. Combine that with grants/tax credits for refitting to new the HVAC systems above and the use of SpacePacs AC in older buildings and the economy will be off and running.
    My plan to pass the bill mandating R-30 Insulation in walls and R-50 in ceilings and combinations of Geothermal/Solar Shingles HVAC plus is needed additional areas covered by metal roofs in new construction and remodeling and offering tax credits and other financial incentives, would create millions of Jobs, and taxing Outsourcing Union scale Plus 15% would produce large incomes, and several million new jobs for the middle and lower classes.
    To most politicians spending is only unaffordable when the money is for the Middle and lower classes; it seems always affordable when the money is going to the already rich or for wars.
    Giving the “Bail-Out to the wealthy is like throwing the drowning poor and middle class, anchors and simultaneously keeping interest earned rates low, those who practiced frugality are now suffering for their wise investing instead of being rewarded. Interest rates are so low that many people are withdrawing their cash and placing it in Swiss banks.
    The war has cost us $19.3 Trillion and the Health care plans $845 Billion. Which would you rather have? The solution? End the wars and put 1/3rd of that money into Medicare and Social Security and we will save $9.4 trillion.
    These ideas are equivalent to dam building in the 1930’s, which brought electricity to the 97% of rural homes, which at that time had none.

    STEP 3
    Tax outsourcing corporations union scale plus 15% for each job sent off shore, including a retroactive Windfall Profits Tax. This would expand the job market by 3.5 million new workers.

    This time around, why not bail out the working families, which have a net worth of under $500,000? If we grant these people about $25,000 each, they would spend or invest it and that would heat-up the economy. I said give not lend. Right now middle to lower class families is receiving almost no interest income on their savings. The total would be less than $1 trillion

    STEP 4
    Combine the loans and grants with tax credits as shown below. These things plus that shown below will pump hundreds of billions into the marketplace solidifying many jobs and creating new ones. People would spend or invest that money and it would stimulate the economy. One condition is that aside from paying off debts, the money cannot be used to indebt themselves further by using the money to buy luxuries which without that cash they could not afford.

    STEP 5
    Raise interest rates. Raising interest rates on savings would unlock trillions in cash to all market places. It would allow those who have savings to utilize interest earned to buy and invest. A soaring interest rate would far less effect on building construction or big-ticket sales than healthy interest rates on savings. Studies indicate that there is among Americans more than $5 trillion in savings, earning little interest. Some people have withdrawn hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks, put the money into auction shopping for art and jewelry overseas. Higher interest rates on savings combined with the above would have the market booming before the 2012 elections.

    Think of the trillions thrown away and the myriad lives wasted on ludicrous wars now twice as long as WW II, the expenditure of $1 million per day per man at arms plus support, armament and ordinance, for 150,000 troops, comes to about $1.8 trillion a year and in a short time America would be well on the road to recovery. That is twice what a Medicare addition of the entire population would cost over ten years and still more than Medicare would cost if the entire population were added to it for the next 20 years. How many students would that educate? It would educate all of the students now living in the USA, through college and graduate school at Harvard or Princeton.

    These changes would become a beacon for the world. Money doing good instead of evil, ala Teddy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, what a novel idea.
    Jimmy Carter once capped oil at $8-$10 a gallon and hit the profiteering oil companies with a Windfall Profits tax. That was the best idea since the invention of the Banana Split.

    FDR in his 13 years as president carried out more of the Philosophies of the man Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount than any national leader in the history of Planet Earth. The rest of the national or world leaders took various turns doing various kinds and degrees of evil. All of us, both black and white, who voted for the present President, wanted a Big Change. What we got was a Democratic version of what we had from 2001-2018.

    These architectural and energy saving ideas to create virtual energy-free homes would strongly reduce the import of oil and would eventually drop energy use to a virtual Zero. They would also result in millions of new jobs.
    The President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka offers a prophetic view, one of which Jesus might be proud, in saying, “The best way to fix the deficit is to create 10 million jobs now — the number of jobs needed to close our jobs deficit. This will require large amounts of public investment in the short term, which would be paid for in future years by taxing Wall Street. In addition to creating jobs for Main Street this tax will also curb short-term speculation and other Wall Street abuses that caused this recession.”
    Instead of the above, so far, TV shows and politicians are presenting as experts the self-same people who did not see this coming and who are responsible for the current mess.
    Combine that with the trillions thrown away and the myriad lives wasted on a war now twice as long as WW II, the expenditure of $1 million per day per man at arms plus support armament and ordinance, for 150,000 troops, comes to about $1.8 trillion a year. Our debt is now as I predicted in 2002 standing, or rapidly moving past $19.3 trillion. That is twice what a Medicare addition of the entire population would cost over several generations and still more than Medicare would cost if the entire population were added to it for the next 20 years. How many students would the money wasted protecting the $125 Million a year in Opium profits and the oil pipelines in Afghanistan, educate? It would educate, all of the students now living in the USA, through college and graduate school at Harvard or Princeton. The USA would now have money vested in everyone profiting instead of a handful of Mercenaries and Oil companies.

    These changes would become a beacon for the world. A president minding his own nation’s business and thinking creatively for the best thing for our people and the world, instead of following a one way path to Hell. The Bush administration has wasted their time going soft on white collar crime, in the largest bank and treasury robbery of all time and doing it all for those already rich beyond belief. We have not had a Creative Mind in the White House since the death of FDR in 1945. FDR in his 13 years as president carried out more, of the Philosophies of the man Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount than any national leader in the history of Planet Earth.
    The president should Shame congress into acting on more Progressive actions with Executive Orders.

    These architectural and energy saving ideas, to energy free homes would seriously reduce the import of oil and would eventually drop energy use to a virtual Zero. They would also result in millions of new jobs.
    The President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka offers a prophetic view, one of which Jesus might be proud, in saying, “The best way to fix the deficit is to create 10 million jobs now — the number of jobs needed to close our jobs deficit. This will require large amounts of public investment in the short term. In addition to creating jobs for Main Street this tax will also curb short-term speculation and other Wall Street abuses that caused this recession.”
    Let us keep in mind that nations like ours have profited more in a carefully managed economy than over the longer view in wartime, though WW II was an exception because the job market expanded. Aside from the above, not a single person has offered any specific job plan.

    Keep in mind that during Bill Clinton’s administration there was a $5.9 trillion dollar surplus, $3.9 trillion of which was earmarked by Paul O’Neil and Alan Greenspan for Social Security. Why that money wasn’t vested by Clinton into a meaningful savings and long term employment plan instead of allowing the Bush administration to squander it is beyond the reach of mind of most intelligent people and why this administration continues a war which is costing as much each year as funding both Medicare and Social Security. Why is the Obama administration not displaying a similar surplus?

  5. comment number 5 by: Brooks

    Stan Collender at CG&G is still censoring arguments he doesn’t like (ok, this one took a jab at him, but still), so I’ll post here what he blocked on his site (I re-submitted it a moment ago, but most likely he will discard it again — that’s why he requires that comments be submitted for moderation before posting: so he can discard any that make his arguments look bad. Quintessential intellectual cowardice)

    Although I hate to give the guy traffic as a result of his censorship policies, here Stan’s post:
    http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/stan-collender/2061/four-reasons-why-bowles-simpson-commission-has-be-considered-failure#comment-9924

    Here’s my reply:

    Stan,

    deficit hawk groups…had a stake in its outcome. Under these circumstances, their enthusiastic approval and attempt to define the outcome as a success is not at all surprising.

    Hah! Pot-kettle (at best; at worst, you’re projecting your own psychology onto them). For over a year you’ve been ridiculing the idea of any commission and of this one, stating with hyperbolic supposed certainty (and quite faulty reasoning) that it was doomed to failure. If anyone has a stake in a biased assessment of its likely impact — to what extent it is a “success” or “failure”, to the extent one can discern such things now, which isn’t much anyway — it is YOU, Stan.

    If people reach a conclusion at some point that some degree of progress can be attributable to the commission’s work (and its existence, and all related activity encouraged by it), you’ll have egg on your face for all you’ve said so emphatically and snarkily (and so poorly argued) in the blogosphere and elsewhere, of which, as you know, there is a permanent record (although I wouldn’t put it past you to delete any embarrassing old posts at that point just as you block some comments that refute your arguments).

  6. comment number 6 by: Brooks

    Stan Collender at CG&G is still censoring arguments he doesn’t like (ok, this one took a jab at him, but still), so I’ll post here what he blocked on his site (I re-submitted it a moment ago, but most likely he will discard it again — that’s why he requires that comments be submitted for moderation before posting: so he can discard any that make his arguments look bad. Quintessential intellectual cowardice)

    Although I hate to give the guy traffic as a result of his censorship policies, here Stan’s post:
    http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/stan-collender/2061/four-reasons-why-bowles-simpson-commission-has-be-considered-failure#comment-9924

    Here’s my reply:

    Stan,

    deficit hawk groups…had a stake in its outcome. Under these circumstances, their enthusiastic approval and attempt to define the outcome as a success is not at all surprising.

    Hah! Pot-kettle (at best; at worst, you’re projecting your own psychology onto them). For over a year you’ve been ridiculing the idea of any commission and of this one, stating with hyperbolic supposed certainty (and quite faulty reasoning) that it was doomed to failure. If anyone has a stake in a biased assessment of its likely impact — to what extent it is a “success” or “failure”, to the extent one can discern such things now, which isn’t much anyway — it is YOU, Stan.

    If people reach a conclusion at some point that some degree of progress can be attributable to the commission’s work (and its existence, and all related activity encouraged by it), you’ll have egg on your face for all you’ve said so emphatically and snarkily (and so poorly argued) in the blogosphere and elsewhere, of which, as you know, there is a permanent record (although I wouldn’t put it past you to delete any embarrassing old posts at that point just as you block some comments that refute your arguments).

  7. comment number 7 by: Brooks

    Stan Collender at CG&G is still censoring arguments he doesn’t like (ok, this one took a jab at him, but still), so I’ll post here what he blocked on his site (I re-submitted it a moment ago, but most likely he will discard it again — that’s why he requires that comments be submitted for moderation before posting: so he can discard any that make his arguments look bad. Quintessential intellectual cowardice)

    Although I hate to give the guy traffic as a result of his censorship policies, here Stan’s post:
    http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/stan-collender/2061/four-reasons-why-bowles-simpson-commission-has-be-considered-failure#comment-9924

    Here’s my reply:

    Stan,

    deficit hawk groups…had a stake in its outcome. Under these circumstances, their enthusiastic approval and attempt to define the outcome as a success is not at all surprising.

    Hah! Pot-kettle (at best; at worst, you’re projecting your own psychology onto them). For over a year you’ve been ridiculing the idea of any commission and of this one, stating with hyperbolic supposed certainty (and quite faulty reasoning) that it was doomed to failure. If anyone has a stake in a biased assessment of its likely impact — to what extent it is a “success” or “failure”, to the extent one can discern such things now, which isn’t much anyway — it is YOU, Stan.

    If people reach a conclusion at some point that some degree of progress can be attributable to the commission’s work (and its existence, and all related activity encouraged by it), you’ll have egg on your face for all you’ve said so emphatically and snarkily (and so poorly argued) in the blogosphere and elsewhere, of which, as you know, there is a permanent record (although I wouldn’t put it past you to delete any embarrassing old posts at that point just as you block some comments that refute your arguments).

  8. comment number 8 by: Brooks

    Apologies for the repeat posts. My browser (or the site) seemed to be stuck so I tried again.

  9. comment number 9 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    Brooks,

    Since your comment has been posted three times, you are obviously not being censored here.

    With respect to Collender, he’s blocked several of my comments as well. It’s perhaps something that he has learned as a communications expert. The same goes for Bartlett. Anytime you disagree with someone, they are bound to take it personally; however, these guys take it to the extreme.

    And, your comment makes perfect sense. Anytime one has staked out a prominent and unequivocal position, as did Collender, it is really tough to admit error. I’m reminded of all your posts arguing that it doesn’t matter how we define “tax expenditure”.

  10. comment number 10 by: Brooks

    Vivian,

    Indeed Diane does not censor. (although I certainly wouldn’t mind deletion of the embarrassing and space-taking repetitions!)

    Re: Bartlett, I wouldn’t assume he is the one blocking your comments even on one of his threads. It could be, and I think any one of the contributors can block, but my sense is that Stan is in de facto control of the machine, and I’m not at all surprised to hear from you (as I have from others) that he has censored your comments, which I feel safe assuming in your case were civil expressions of disagreement.

    Re: your last line, I’ll assume that was humor.

    But I never said it doesn’t matter how we “define tax expenditure”. What I said was that it didn’t matter with regard to the questions I was asking, which clearly it doesn’t. If, on the other hand, someone is making a comment about “tax expenditures”, then certainly the definition of the label someone is applying to a group of policies as they criticize them can indeed matter. So the lesson for you in this paragraph is: When someone says a definition of a particular term is irrelevant, pay attention and keep in mind to what he is saying it is irrelevant.

  11. comment number 11 by: AMTbuff

    Keith Hennesey agrees with Diane that the vote is encouraging.

  12. comment number 12 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    Brooks,

    The last sentence was not meant to be humorous. But, it wasn’t meant to be malicious, either. Your statement that you never said it doesn’t matter how we define “tax expenditure” is a revelation to me. Perhaps we can just leave it at that?

  13. comment number 13 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    The last sentence was not meant to be humorous. But, it wasn’t meant to be malicious, either. Your statement that you never said it doesn’t matter how we define “tax expenditure” is a revelation to me. Perhaps we can just leave it at that?

  14. comment number 14 by: Brooks

    Vivian,

    I can only refer you to my prior reply. Apparently you’re still not paying attention.

    By all means, just for kicks go back to that thread and post a link here to a comment of mine that you think proves your point. Of course, if you do you’ll end up proving mine, because my point was always the irrelevancy to the questions I was asking and to policies I was describing, which could be discussed without getting sidetracked by discussion of labels.

    I was always very clear about that.

    I also made separate comments about usage of the term “tax expenditure”, agreeing that in some cases it could be applied so broadly as to be fairly meaningless, but I was clear that that was not relevant to my point and questions.

    Maybe you’re listening this time and you get what I’m saying.