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Dems wobbly on Simpson-Bowles

By Will Parry

Watch out for Simpson-Bowles.

The so-called “deficit reduction plan” cooked up by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles is a sneak attack on Social Security and Medicare that calls for severe cuts in Social Security benefits, for raising the retirement age to 69, and for saddling the millions who rely on   Medicare with higher costs for their health care.

And this scheme is getting mushy semi-endorsements from major Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

There is a real risk that in pursuit of a “grand bargain” on the budget, a bipartisan deal will be struck based on Simpson-Bowles.

Earlier this year, after Pelosi said she would vote for Simpson-Bowles, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold challenged her in an e-mail sent to supporters.

“Any Democratic endorsement of benefit cuts capitulates on bedrock progressive values and makes it easier for corporate Democrats to join with corporate Republicans to destroy these programs,” Feingold wrote.

Interviewing Pelosi later, George Stephanopoulas cited Feingold’s e-mail and asked if she agreed.  Pelosi evaded answering directly. She weaved and bobbed without ever confronting the impact of the plan on Social Security and Medicare.

“She did engage in subtle beltway signaling,” Trudy Lieberman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, “allowing her words to convey that the Dems who mattered were now on board to pass the Simpson-Bowles plan.”

Simpson, a notoriously intemperate former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Bowles, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and a former Morgan Stanley director, co-chaired the 18-member bipartisan commission charged with developing a deficit reduction plan.   The commission earned the sardonic monicker of the “Catfood Commission” for its proposals to impoverish Social Security recipients.

The plan the co-chairs came up with couldn’t get the required 14 votes, so there is no commission proposal.  Nevertheless, Simpson-Bowles has moved to the national agenda.

And the compromising posture of Democratic leaders is ominous.

“When President Obama seems willing to talk about cutting Social Security,” wrote Cliff Schecter in the Progressive Populist, “when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi refuses to rule it out, and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer seems like a lion on the Serengeti eyeing a giraffe, this just sends a signal that it is ok for others to go even further which bodes very badly for the future.”

Lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes will make Social Security solvent for decades, Schecter writes, “but that option is not on Washington’s table, nor has it been discussed much in the press.”

Every member of Congress should be challenged to support that simple, straightforward step to preserve Social Security.   The people must get “Scrap the Cap” on the national agenda.

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