The Obama Administration’s justification for creating its National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (cat food commission) is that we have to use an unaccountable, secret, anti-democratic process so we can have "every proposal on the table." But in recent days, four prominent Republicans have signaled that this notion is a complete fraud.
Republican Senators Susan Collins and possibly Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Scott Brown (Massachusetts) have signaled they will not vote for tax increases to help pay for financial reform. They made these statements in response to the House-Senate conferees’ agreement Friday to impose a fairly small ($19 billion) tax on the nation’s largest TBTF banks to offset the costs of increased regulation and oversight of their activities. These would be the banks for which Congress authorized $700 billion and the Fed offered trillions in credit access and guarantees.
Remember, Republicans now insist it was wrong to bailout the banks in the first place, but when the House proposed a modest tax to recover part of what the Fed and Treasury gave to the banks, the Republicans refused. We can’t even tax banks to pay for a moderate level of financial sector regulation.
Now comes Republican House Leader John Boehner to tell us we can only cut entitlements to raise revenues. In fact, Boehner suggested that the way to pay for the ongoing war in Afghanistan is to reduce Social Security benefits by, for example, extending the eligibility retirement age to 70 and reducing payments:
Ensuring there’s enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country’s entitlement system, Boehner said. He said he’d favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them.
Well, that’s an interesting tradeoff. If we want to continue occupying and pacifying Afghanistan with 100,000 or more troops, we should pay for it by forcing younger workers, even people who have been paying into the system under one set of rules, to retire 3 or 4 years later and reduce their benefit payments when they do retire. Let’s put that one up for a vote.
But Boehner isn’t done. While his party continually complains about deficit spending, he wants to repeal the provisions of the Health Care reform intended to lower Medicare costs:
The health care law passed in March "pushed most Americans over the edge," Boehner said.
If Republicans retake control of the House, Boehner promised a vote on a bill repealing the health care law and replacing it with a scaled-down package of tax breaks and court reforms. Democrats likely would maintain control of the Senate, and Obama could veto the proposal, all but eliminating its chances of succeeding.
"We are going to do everything we can to make sure that this law and this program never really takes effect," Boehner said. One option would be to repeal the $534 billion in Medicare cuts, which pay for more than half of the law’s provisions. "They’re going to need money from the Congress to hire these 20,000-plus bureaucrats they need to hire to make this program work. They’re not going to get one dime from us."
Think about that Republican governance principle: Delete all the potential cost savings; leave the costs unfunded and then laugh as the government struggles with the problem. This is from the head of Congressional Republicans on what passes for Republican fiscal responsibility.
So the message to President Obama and the Democrats is clear. The Administration has made a huge strategic blunder by creating an unrepresentative and unaccountable secret commission, stacked it with budget hysterics, staffed it with paid propagandists, and then promised it will put "everything on the table." Republicans are clearly announcing, before the elections, that anything sensible will never be on the table. They are never going to impose even modest reasonable taxes on anyone and will even help create conditions of unfunded costs. All they’ll allow as "remedies" are harmful cuts to the middle class and the elderly. We can’t tax the wealthy or their estates, corporate give-aways and subsidies, or even the TBTF banks that tanked the economy.
The traditional [mis]use of commissions is to shield politicians from accountability and allow reasonable but unpopular approaches to be put forward and voted on, usually after elections, when elected officials have the least to fear from outraged voters.
But the way Alan Simpson’s cat food commission is going, we’re extremely unlikely to get balanced/reasonable proposals on anything. Even if something reasonable somehow emerged, today’s Republican Party will kill it, and Obama wants to wait until after the elections fortify the Republicans with even more crazies before they have to show how irresponsible they truly are. There are no reasonable Republicans left.
That means there’s no excuse for shielding these irresponsible people from the voters’ wrath. What possible public purpose could it serve?
It is long past time for Obama to open up the Commission or shut it down.
Open all its meetings, not just the handful of dog and pony shows.
Replace the chairs and other obvious clowns with actual growups who don’t believe in Peter Peterson fantasies.
Promptly publish/put on line every report, presentation, proposal or analysis presented to the Commission by Staff or any entity/member, whether handed out in or outside the meetings.
Transcribe their meetings and publish the transcripts.
Bring the cameras in.
Hold no meetings that are not noticed and open to the press and the public.
Stop acting like Russia.
Let us see what they’re up to, and make them publish their proposals before the elections. Let’s see what the American people think about them and how candidates respond.
If our government can’t behave in even a remotely responsible, democratic fashion, then shut it down. Open up the cat food commission, or shut it down. And if they refuse, disrupt their meetings. Enough.
Update: A NYT report suggests the Senate-House conferees may go back into session tonight to remove the $19 billion tax to satisfy Brown, Collins, etc. One possible substitute, a favorite of Republicans, would be to take the money from unspent TARP. I don’t even know where to start on the irony of meeting pay-go by spending money that would otherwise go unspent and hence not affect deficits.
FDL News/David Dayen, Scott Brown withdraws support for FinReg
Dean Baker: CEPR has a handy deficit reduction calculator (this is cool)