The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Posts Tagged ‘Conrad-Gregg’

Two month reprieve on fast-track commission

In Legislation Today, Political world on December 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Looks like the House has raised the debt ceiling temporarily for the next two months, thus avoiding the Conrad-Gregg fast-track “deficit” commission that threatened to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare in the name of reducing the deficit. (See this previous post, and this, and this.) A group of Senators has vowed to hold up an increase in the debt ceiling unless such a commission is put in place. (Funny, why didn’t they try to do that when the previous administration was racking up such huge deficits?)

However, the pressure for some sort of cost-cutting commission is intense. On Monday, a coalition consisting of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Pew Trust, and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget held a press conference at the National Press Club to release the report of what they called the “Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform.” The Peterson Foundation was founded in 2008 with an endowment of $1 billion by its namesake, who made his money as a co-founder of the Blackstone Group, a huge multinational investment firm. With that kind of money (Peterson & Pew) behind the call for the fast-track commission, it’s hard to ignore.

Yet, a large coalition of nonprofit groups — more than 40 — has sent a letter to Congress urging it to resist the suggestion that a fast-track commission that starts off with a predisposition to cut social benefits is the right way to work on the deficit. In addition, thousands of individuals have signed a petition that we initiated urging President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid to say no to such a commission.

And in a new wrinkle, CNN reported today that the Obama Administration is considering an executive order to create a similar commission. This would be preferable to the commission proposed by Conrad and Gregg:

If Obama signed an executive order to create the commission, however, it would not have the full force of law and thus the outside commission could not mandate that Congress vote up-or-down on the recommendations. This would also give the president more wiggle room to ignore the recommendations if the commission suggests, for example, raising taxes on people earning less than $250,000 a year, which would break an Obama campaign promise.

So, we have the next two months to fight the undemocratic fast-track commission idea. That’s better news than we might have expected…

Don’t let them harm Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Compensation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Supplemental Security Income, school meals and other programs crucial to struggling lower income and middle-income people

In Political world on December 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Add your name to the list of people opposing a fast-track commission. Say “No Way!” to trying to cut the deficit by cutting your benefits — now or in the future.

Please tell our leaders: don’t steal from Social Security and Medicare!

WillieSutton A few days ago, Ben Bernanke encouraged Congress to act like bank robber Willie Sutton (left) and raid Social Security and Medicare, saying, “That’s where the money is.” In his re-appointment hearing on December 3rd, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke called for cuts in Medicare and Social Security, reminding Congress that it could even repeal Social Security and Medicare. “It’s only mandatory until Congress says it’s not mandatory,” he stated.

What’s going on? A conservative group of Democrats and Republicans in Congress are trying to scare us into thinking that the only way to reduce the budget deficit is by cutting Social Security and Medicare. These fear-mongerers are telling us that those programs must be cut now — not in the open by elected officials who are accountable to us, but behind closed doors by an unelected commission. As with the “weapons of mass destruction” fiasco, they’re hoping that in fear we’ll agree to give away more of our American rights and privileges — in this case, social programs. Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg, along with a group of colleagues, say that they’ll hold the budget hostage until their fast-track commission is appointed, a commission that’s hostile to Social Security and Medicare.

We need to get word to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama that cutting social programs is the WRONG way to cut the deficit. A fast-track commission that limits debate and allows only an up-or-down vote on its proposals is undemocratic and anti-American.

Sign the petition today!

Robert Kuttner said this1 in the Huffington Post on November 30th about the Conrad-Gregg proposal for a fast-track commission:

“We do need to reduce the ratio of debt to GDP. But we need to do it after the economy is back in recovery. And we need to do it using the normal legislative process. And above all we need to use progressive taxation rather than program cuts.”

FACT: Social Security is not contributing to the deficit. The 2009 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees stated that Social Security ran a surplus of $180 billion last year with a reserve of $2.4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office, in its August 2009 forecast, said that full benefits can continue to be paid until 2043.

FACT: There is ample time for Congress to review options for adjusting the Social Security system through the usual legislative process. Congress should do its job, not hide behind an unelected, unaccountable commission.

FACT: Such a hasty and undemocratic procedure would be unprecedented. Since 1935, Social Security legislation has always had the benefit of full hearings before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, executive sessions giving all members a chance to offer amendments, and unlimited debate and opportunity for amendments in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

FACT: More than 52 million people are depending on monthly benefits this year. Wounded soldiers and their spouses and children receive Social Security benefits, as well as the families of soldiers who have died for their country. Social Security continues to provide benefits to the families of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, and millions of others whose families have met unthinkable calamity.

FACT: The solution to Medicare and Medicaid’s rising costs can be found by cutting the cost of health care and fixing our broken system, not by cutting services. The bills under consideration in Congress, though not perfect, would help do that.

FACT: The projected deficit–which seems like a huge number–isn’t that huge. As pointed out by Paul Krugman on his blog2, our debt-service burden is about the same as that of 1992 under President H.W. Bush.

FACT: There are and always have been politicians who oppose Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, and would like nothing better than to see these programs cut to shreds.3 There are also many corporate titans who’d like to see all those dollars invested with their Wall Street firms (remember George Bush’s privatization?).

FACT: There are many ways to cut the deficit. Why are these Senators so eager to cut social programs but so reluctant to raise taxes on billionaires and corporations?

Don’t let the alarmists frighten us into cutting the very programs that have kept our people healthy and our communities solvent in these dire financial times.

Derail the fast-track commission! Add your name to the petition.

Can you help to get more signatures for this important petition? For an easy way to forward this request to your like-minded friends, please use this link.


1Kuttner, Robert, “Recovery And Debt: Squaring The Circle,” November 30, 2009, The Huffington Post.

2Krugman, Paul, “The Dogbert theory of the debt,” November 30, 2009, The Conscience of a Liberal (New York Times).

3Baker, Dean, “‘Commission’ is WashingtonSpeak for Cutting Social Security and Medicare.” December 1, 2009, TPMCafe.