The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Posts Tagged ‘fast-track commission’

Senator Byrd’s letter opposing the fast-track commission amendment

In Legislation Today on January 22, 2010 at 8:45 am

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Press release — “Say NO to the Fast-Track Commission”

In Legislation Today on January 19, 2010 at 10:42 am

This morning we received this notice from colleagues worried about the fast-track commission.

“Say NO to the Fast-Track Commission”
National Call-In Day – January 19, 2010 – # 1.800.998.0180

Contact: Anne Bollinger
Phone: 202.719.0725
Visit: www.socialsecuritymatters.org

WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, January 19, 2010 OWL, AFSCME Retirees, AFT Program on Retirement and Retirees, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Association of University Women, Generations United, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Senior Citizens Law Center, NOW, Pension Right Center, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and several other national organizations are calling on their members to flood the Senate with phone calls against the Conrad-Gregg Fast Track Commission proposal.

Senators Conrad (D-ND) and Gregg (R-NH) have come up with a special fast-track commission that they say will cure America’s budget problems, and they are holding up other legislation until the Senate votes on their proposal.  Debate begins on January 20th.

“It is clear from their press release that Senators Conrad and Gregg have painted a big red target on Social Security and Medicare,” Senator Baucus (D-MT) warned. “That’s what this commission is all about. It’s a big roll of the dice for Social Security and Medicare.”

This type of fast-track commission is undemocratic and takes power away from Congress to make decisions about Social Security.  Social Security does not contribute to the national debt; it is insurance that workers have earned through their hard work.

Social Security is fundamental to the economic security of all Americans, particularly women, seniors, minorities, the disabled children who lose a parent, people who lose a spouse, and veterans.

“The average Social Security recipient receives $13,860 annually, less if you are a woman.  The fact that Senators Conrad and Gregg think the way to fix budget shortfalls is to make seniors poorer is shocking and laughable – first, because Social Security doesn’t contribute in any way to the national deficit, and second, because essentially Congress has allowed $150 billion in Wall Street bonuses,” stated, Ashley Carson, OWL Executive Director.  “Robbing grandma to reward Wall Street fat cats is not sound economics.”

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The number for the call-in day is 1.800.998.0180 and has been generously provided by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare who has been a leader on this issue and whose members have been making calls already.

NPR was punked

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2010 at 11:43 am

This morning, Deborah Amos interviewed David Walker, executive director of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and she gave him free reign to promulgate the message that his boss and colleagues are spending millions with which to blanket the airwaves. I wrote this in response:

Dear Deborah Amos and colleagues,

I’m sorry to tell you that you’ve been journalistically “punked.”

This morning’s interview with the executive director of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation is yet another piece in a multi-million dollar public relations campaign by the Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson and his various mouthpieces to create a fast-track, undemocratic mechanism with an aim to slash social insurance programs — the very programs that are sustaining Americans through a time of economic hardship brought on by Wall Street and its rapacious disregard for Democratic safeguards.

The deficit is a real problem — one of many we face today. However, the path to controlling and reducing the deficit does not lie in diminishing Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is not in any way a contributor to the deficit; it is projected to be solvent for at least another 33 years or so, and small, careful adjustments can be made to make sure that it continues to be solvent in perpetuity. The issue with Medicare is the cost of health care; the way to solve its financial woes is to bring the cost of health care down, as the bill in Congress’s conference committee is the first step in achieving.

The bias of Peter G. Peterson, his foundations, and his other public relations organs such as the Fiscal Times is well known. Last week, the New York Times covered a recent example in which the Washington Post relied on Peterson’s Fiscal Times to cover this same subject. Peterson and his cohorts want us to believe that the public is unanimous in feeling that the only way to cut the deficit is to cut social insurance programs but this is far from true. In fact, it is a highly orchestrated and well-funded disinformation campaign.

For the other side (a side which has the public’s best interests at heart), please consider interviewing experts such as Nancy Altman, author of the Battle for Social Security, and elected officials who oppose the fast-track commission idea such as Senator Baucus and Speaker Pelosi.

And I’d like to invite you (and/or colleagues) to cover a symposium that the Frances Perkins Center is presenting this Thursday in New York City: “Frances Perkins and Social Security — A Celebration in Film, Food, Art, and Discussion” (http://FrancesPerkinsCenter.org/events).

Thanks for your attention to this matter.

Yours truly,

Barbara Burt

Fast cars, fast trains, fast food, fast track commission? Great video

In Political world on January 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Senator Conrad — shaving points and shaving programs

In Political world on January 6, 2010 at 10:51 am

Back in 2008, this scandal broke:

Two U.S. senators, two former Cabinet members, and a former ambassador to the United Nations received loans from Countrywide Financial through a little-known program that waived points, lender fees, and company borrowing rules for prominent people.

Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide’s “V.I.P.” program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.

[from Portfolio.com’s Countrywide’s Many ‘Friends’.]

Today the Times reported this about Dodd, who’s not seeking re-election:

But his standing in Connecticut had been on the decline starting when he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2008 — moving his family to Iowa — and when questions arose about a disputed loan he took from Countrywide Financial, the fallen subprime company.

So, what’s been the political fallout of the Countrywide scandal on Senator Conrad? Hard to say. His next election is not until 2012. But it’s interesting to note that he’s teamed with Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) to force the formation of the commission that would cut social programs in the cause of “deficit reduction.” (More about that here.)

There’s some consistency in Senator Conrad’s ideas about saving money — shaving points on sweetheart mortgages and shaving programs that sustain the rest of us through hard times — both ideas are ethically challenged.

Perhaps he’ll end up paying the price eventually.

Washington Post parrots the Peterson “deficit reduction” line

In Political world on January 6, 2010 at 10:12 am

In what’s turning out to be an embarrassing misstep, on December 31st the Washington Post printed a story created by The Fiscal Times, a paper funded by Pete Peterson, Wall St. tycoon, founder of the Concord Coalition and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and longtime opponent of social insurance programs such as Social Security.

Peterson has been one of the main forces behind a push to force a fast-track commission on the Congress that would propose cuts in social programs in the name of deficit reduction. He reportedly is spending tens of millions to influence members of Congress to support the commission.

The Washington Post article, Support grows for tackling nation’s debt, included this statement:

“I think there’s more interest in the proposal not only in Congress but at the White House because there’s a growing realization the deficit and the debt are reaching such levels they can’t be ignored any longer,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that advocates entitlement reform and balanced budgets.

Note that the spokesperson is the executive director of the Concord Coalition — another Peterson connection. The Post later appended this statement to their article:

Correction to This Article
The article by the Fiscal Times, about growing congressional support for a bipartisan commission to address the nation’s debt, contained a statement supporting the concept by Robert L. Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition. The article should have noted that the Concord Coalition receives funding from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Peterson, but not his foundation, also funds the Fiscal Times, the independent news service that prepared the article.

The article’s attribution ran thus:

This article was produced by the Fiscal Times, an independent digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, health-care and international economics issues. Fiscal Times staff writer Adam Graham-Silverman contributed to this report.

After an outcry by many experts and organizations — many of whom have sent letters to Congress and the Administration opposing the establishment of a so-called deficit reduction commission — the Post’s ombudsman is looking into the issue.

The story has been picked up by many progressive blogs. Yesterday it hit the mainstream media: in its Media & Advertising section, the New York Times ran this article, Sourcing of Article Awkward for Paper.

The Times article reported on the conflict-of-interest angle but didn’t mention that the conflict of interest led to an inherently incorrect article, points of which has been soundly refuted. Here’s an excerpt from a letter signed by many social insurance experts and sent to the Post’s ombudsman:

Consistent with the bias of the founder, the story reports glowingly of the increasing support for a commission, failing ever to mention that over forty national organizations, including the AARP, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, National Organization for Women, Common Cause, to name just a few, have been outspoken in their opposition to the proposal.  Indeed, most readers would have no idea from this story that there was any opposition to the proposed commission whatsoever.

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.

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1Kuttner, Robert, “Recovery And Debt: Squaring The Circle,” November 30, 2009, The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/recovery-and-debt-squarin_b_373238.html

2Krugman, Paul, “The Dogbert theory of the debt,” November 30, 2009, The Conscience of a Liberal (New York Times). http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/the-dogbert-theory-of-the-debt/

3Baker, Dean, “‘Commission’ is WashingtonSpeak for Cutting Social Security and Medicare.” December 1, 2009, TPMCafe. http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/12/01/commission_is_washingtonspeak_for_cutting_social_s/