The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Social Security foes named to president’s Fiscal Commission

In Legislation Today, Political world on March 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm

As feared, the Republican picks for the deficit commission are avowed opponents of Social Security. House Minority Leader Boehner has named Reps. Dave Camp (MI), Paul Ryan (WI) and Jeb Hensarling (TX) to join the 18-member commission. Ryan has already made his position clear with his earlier-released  “Budget Roadmap,” which Jonathan Chait in the New Republic characterized this way:

Ryan’s plan would make the federal tax code regressive, especially at the top, on top of an already-regressive state and local tax base. According to the Tax Policy Center, the richest 1% of all taxpayers, who earn more than 21% of the national income and currently pay about 25% of federal taxes, would pay 13% of federal taxes under Ryan’s plan. (Ryan’s response argues that the corporate income tax he’d eliminate is already born by consumers anyway, a contention most economists including the CBO reject, and even if true would only chip away slightly at the overall critique of his plan’s regressive nature.) Ryan’s tax plan alone would amount to the greatest shift of resources from the non-rich to the rich in the history of the United States, by far.

And that is just the beginning. Ryan would impose a series of dramatic social policy changes that would all push in the same direction. He would blow up the employer-based health care system, pushing workers into an under-regulated individual market. Instead of sharing medical risk with their fellow employees, they’d bear it entirely by themselves, which would be good for the healthy but bad for the sick. He would convert Social Security into primarily a network of individual investment accounts [my emphasis]–meaning that some workers would do well and others poorly. And he would convert Medicare into a voucher system, capping the value of each voucher at well below the rate of medical inflation, which would make the elderly bear a far greater share of medical risk.

It seemed as though Ryan’s Republican colleagues were distancing themselves from his plan, but now it has been fully legitimized by his appointment to the commission.

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has named Senators Gregg (NH), Crapo (ID) and Coburn (OK) to the commission. Gregg and Crapo are known fiscal hawks.

We await the word on Speaker Pelosi’s three appointees.Here’s what USAToday said at 3:15 this afternoon:

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said the speaker “is discussing with a number of members who have expressed interest in serving on the commission because of their commitment to fiscal responsibility. The speaker will make those appointments when she has completed those discussions.”

Commitment to fiscal responsibility? What about commitment to social responsibility? So far, out of the 15 named to the commission, only one is a woman and none are non-white. More than half of Social Security recipients are women, and certainly more than zero of recipients are non-white. Only two of those commission members named so far are known to be strong supporters of Social Security. It looks like the fate of this hugely important and successful program is in the hands of a group of officials who hold it in disdain.

The program’s defenders, like us, have a big fight on our hands. Who will be today’s Frances Perkins to lead the battle for our side?


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