No Good Choices For Social Safety Nets

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Since Saturday’s announcement of the right wing darling Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Gov. Mitt Romney’s choice for his Vice President, the number one concern has been Ryan’s budget that would end Medicare as we know it, end federal funding of Medicaid and privatize Social Security. Those proposals are unacceptable for the majority of voters. But voting to reelect Barack Obama won’t protect those programs either. Pres. Obama and the Democrats have agreed to cuts and changes to those programs that are equally unacceptable. Mr. Obama has even lamented that he has not been given “enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security.” Even more worrisome is the person whose name has been bandied about as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s replacement, none other than the co-chair of the infamous Cat Food Commission, Erskine Bowles. Ezra Klein, Beltway insider and Washington Post political analyst, is betting on Mr. Bowles appointment if Pres. Obama is reelected:

For the Obama administration, Bowles has a number of qualifications. For one thing, Republicans adore him. Ryan has called him “my favorite Democrat.” Appointing Bowles to be Treasury Secretary would ensure a smooth confirmation, and it would be interpreted as a sign of goodwill and “seriousness” both by Republicans and by the media. Coming after a bitterly partisan election and at the outset of a hugely consequential series of negotiations, that could have real appeal to the White House.

One reservation you often hear when playing the “who will be the next Treasury Secretary” guessing game is, “but they have no market experience.” For better or worse, it’s considered crucial that the Treasury Secretary understand, and be capable of working with, markets. Bowles was an investment banker before he entered politics, and he currently serves on the board of directors for both Morgan Stanley and GE. He’s also personally beloved by Wall Street, where “Simpson-Bowles” has deep and fervent supporters, including many who have no real idea what’s in it. Appointing Bowles would be a signal to them that Washington is getting serious. [..]

There are downsides to Bowles, too. He’ll want the White House to go further than they’ve been willing to go on long-term health costs. But they’re prepared to do that once taxes are on the table. He’s also quite disliked by the left, which frequently refers to the Simpson-Bowles Commission as “the Catfood Commission.” That’s a drawback, but the Obama administration has always prized holding the center over placating the left. Indeed, Obama, who ran in 2008 as a post-partisan uniter and is unexpectedly and unhappily having to run a much more traditional and partisan campaign in 2012, might see that as a benefit. If he can press the reset button after this election, he’s going to do it.

Just what this country needs, another corporatist Wall St. buddy and former bank executive heading Treasury who, as Dean Baker points out, Mr. Bowles has been working to cut Social Security for 15 years:

While Simpson has seized the spotlight, it may prove to be the case that Erskine Bowles, his co-chairman, poses the greater threat to Social Security. The reason is simple: Bowles is the living embodiment of the rewards available to politicians who would support substantial cutbacks or privatization of the program. [..]

Bowles is an unsuccessful politician, having twice lost in runs for the Senate in North Carolina.

Yet, he is very successful financially. He pockets $335,000 a year as a director of Morgan Stanley, one of the huge Wall Street banks that was rescued by taxpayer dollars in the fall of 2008. He likely pockets a similar sum from sitting as a director of GM, another company rescued by the government.

This means that Bowles pockets close to $700,000 annually (@600 monthly Social Security checks) from attending eight to twelve meetings a year. This must look like a pretty attractive deal to current members of Congress. In other words, the message Bowles is sending members of Congress is that if you betray your constituents and vote to undermine Social Security, you will be amply rewarded even if the voters give you the boot.

Bowles has also lied to about Social Security’s solvency:

What we’ve done is make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years. As you all know, Social Security runs out of money in 2037. We’re not making it up. That’s the law.

Think Progress‘s Zaid Zilani debunked that lie:

Social Security is currently projected to be fully solvent until the year 2037. After that, it is expected to be able to pay out 75 percent of benefits until 2084, which basically equals full benefits, once inflation is accounted for. There is no threat of the program running out of money any time soon – certainly not in 2037. That does not mean that there aren’t positive and progressive changes that could possibly be made to the system.

As for Medicare and Medicaid, Dayen debunks the myth about the cost effectiveness of those programs:

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that Medicare and Medicaid spending has decelerated in recent years, and not just because of the Great Recession. The public programs have seen their cost growth slow significantly compared to private health insurance. And this is expected to continue for the coming decade.

This is so important because, as Paul van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, the public debate has focused on transforming Medicare and Medicaid in the coming years, constraining cost in the very programs that are the most cost-efficient. If anything, the opposite should be true, and more and more of the system should be converted into public programs to increase the risk pool, allow for greater bargaining leverage on prices, and provide stability. [..]

The Obama campaign would have voters believe that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would destroy the Social Safety net but the idea of Erskine Bowles as Treasury Secretary would be just as bad for out social safety net. Mr. Bowles and his “Catfood Commission” are “grand bargains” we don’t need.

1 comment

  1. TMC

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