Paul Krugman on the Catfood Commission

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Paul Krugman of the New York Times writes today The Hijacked Commission:

Count me among those who always believed that President Obama made a big mistake when he created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — a supposedly bipartisan panel charged with coming up with solutions to the nation’s long-run fiscal problems. It seemed obvious, as soon as the commission’s membership was announced, that “bipartisanship” would mean what it so often does in Washington: a compromise between the center-right and the hard-right. [Truer words were never spoken]

My misgivings increased as we got a better feel for the views of the commission’s co-chairmen. It soon became clear that Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman, had a very Republican-sounding small-government agenda. Meanwhile, Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chairman, revealed the kind of honest broker he is by sending an abusive e-mail to the executive director of the National Older Women’s League in which he described Social Security as being “like a milk cow with 310 million tits.”

We’ve known for a long time, then, that nothing good would come from the commission. But on Wednesday, when the co-chairmen released a PowerPoint outlining their proposal, it was even worse than the cynics expected.

* * *

The goals of reform, as Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson see them, are presented in the form of seven bullet points. “Lower Rates” is the first point; “Reduce the Deficit” is the seventh.

So how, exactly, did a deficit-cutting commission become a commission whose first priority is cutting tax rates, with deficit reduction literally at the bottom of the list?

Actually, though, what the co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases — tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans — the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest — and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.

[T]his proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?

Let’s turn next to Social Security. There were rumors beforehand that the commission would recommend a rise in the retirement age, and sure enough, that’s what Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson do. They want the age at which Social Security becomes available to rise along with average life expectancy. Is that reasonable?

The answer is no, for a number of reasons — including the point that working until you’re 69, which may sound doable for people with desk jobs, is a lot harder for the many Americans who still do physical labor.

But beyond that, the proposal seemingly ignores a crucial point: while average life expectancy is indeed rising, it’s doing so mainly for high earners, precisely the people who need Social Security least. Life expectancy in the bottom half of the income distribution has barely inched up over the past three decades. So the Bowles-Simpson proposal is basically saying that janitors should be forced to work longer because these days corporate lawyers live to a ripe old age.

Still, can’t we say that for all its flaws, the Bowles-Simpson proposal is a serious effort to tackle the nation’s long-run fiscal problem? No, we can’t.

* * *

It’s no mystery what has happened on the deficit commission: as so often happens in modern Washington, a process meant to deal with real problems has been hijacked on behalf of an ideological agenda. Under the guise of facing our fiscal problems, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson are trying to smuggle in the same old, same old — tax cuts for the rich and erosion of the social safety net.

Can anything be salvaged from this wreck? I doubt it. The deficit commission should be told to fold its tents and go away.

Amen to that!

One response to “Paul Krugman on the Catfood Commission

  1. Jonathan Chait makes the liberal case for the recommendations by debt commision:

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/79124/liberals-and-the-debt-commission

    The thing is that deficit very seriously needs to be addressed. These recommendations offer a good start.