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Pete Peterson speaks

Benjy Sarlin has a good interview with Peter G. Peterson, the deficit-hating billionaire who many liberals see as one of the primary threats to Medicare and Social Security.

In the interview, Peterson comes off as more reasonable than all that: An all-purpose deficit hawk as opposed to a small-government conservative trying to achieve his ends by talking up the debt. Peterson would cut entitlements, to be sure, but he'd also take a carbon tax, more taxes on the rich, defense cuts and more. "I remind you that we have a case study in the 1990s, where taxes on people like me, my marginal taxes, were increased and combined with spending caps and 'pay as you go' rules, we had one of the great decades of our history and ended up with a budget surplus," he says. Fair enough.

One of Peterson's arguments to progressives has always been that you want to plan to deal with the deficit sooner rather than later, as the neediest constituencies are often the first to suffer when Congress has to find money quickly. The last few months have been proof of his point: Medicaid and food stamps and unemployment insurance are staggering while Congress debates whether they'll keep all of the Bush tax cuts or just most of them. That isn't to endorse any particular solutions to our fiscal woes, but there's no guarantee that emergency action will be more equitable than early action.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 30, 2010; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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"One of Peterson's arguments to progressives has always been that you want to plan to deal with the deficit sooner rather than later"

Why in the world is this an argument to PROGRESSIVES?

PROGRESSIVES did not recind Pay-GO, vote in an unfunded tax cut, or Medicare Part D, and are not clamoring for extending the unfunded tax cuts to the uber-rich.

Posted by: grat_is | July 30, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Why should we believe him when all of his money and actions go to cutting entitlements? Oh, and please re-read your post on the expiring tax cuts, particularly your last line.

Posted by: PEHodges | July 30, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Is it "interview a conservative billionaire month?" New York Magazine just did an excellent piece on David Koch:

Posted by: chrisgaun | July 30, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Was peterson for medicare-D?

The Iraq War?

The Bush tax cuts?

If so, then he is not a deficit hawk, rather, a deficit chicken.

Posted by: lauren2010 | July 30, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Oh, so he "would take" a carbon tax, more taxes on the rich, defense cuts and more, would he? How nice. Who does he think is going to give those things to him?

When he decides to use his millions to campaign relentlessly for a carbon tax and defense cuts, I'll believe that he's a deficit hawk. Based on his actual conduct, and not what he says on the phone to a nice Jewish boy with a blog, I conclude that he's a con man who is interested in his own pocketbook above all else.

Posted by: Bloix | July 30, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

When he gets the Republican party to agree to put tax increases and defense cuts onto the bargaining table, then he can talk about what progressives should be willing to accept. But until then, he needs to spend 100% of his time getting Republicans to consider that the slight tax increases need to deal with future shortcomings are an acceptable policy solution.

Posted by: meander510 | July 30, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Peterson isn't a deficit hawk, or a deficit-hater.

He hates SS and medicare. Period.

How would he react to raising the cap gains or dividends tax rates to the same rates we pay on income? (I know, how unfair it'd be for billionaires living on investments to pay the same rates as me!) He'd oppose it in a minute.

It's all about him, not the deficit. HE's an extremist, and you shouldn't wash that away by calling him 'deficit hawk' -- which has a positive connotation.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | July 30, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

This really is a staggeringly poor blog post. You judge Peterson on one piece where he's clearly trying to sound "reasonable". You know his record, Ezra. It's exactly what rat-raceparent says it is: Peterson hates SS and Medicare, wanting to privatize both so they they can be profitted off by people like himself. He's not a deficit hawk or a deficit-hater. Those are simply tools in his chest to chase his relentless goal of killing off SS and Medicare by spinning them off to the private/financial world.

You're better than this, Ezra. :/

Posted by: toshiaki | July 30, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Et tu, Ezra?

Do your homework. This guy isn't spending millions of dollars trying to raise taxes on his own kind. He is a crusader against Social Security and Medicare. What do you think the Concord Coalition was about?

Dean Baker didn't swoon in the presence of The Great Peterson:
"Peter Peterson has been the recipient of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars through the fund manager's tax break. This tax break, which is also known as the "carried interest tax deduction" allows managers of hedge and equity funds to pay tax on their earnings at the 15 percent capital gains tax rate, instead of having it taxed as normal income. As a result, Peterson paid a lower tax rate on much of his earnings than tens of millions of people working as school teachers, fire fighters, and other middle income jobs.

Peterson not only collected the money himself, he came to Washington in 2007 to lobby Congress when it debated ending the tax break. He apparently wanted to make sure that his friends would still be able to benefit from this tax break even after he had retired."

Neither should you.

Posted by: snelson648 | July 31, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Peterson's timing--creating a foundation opposed to the deficit shortly before Democrats took control--makes him seem like the typical Republican, in favor of deficits when Republicans are in control and opposed to deficits when Democrats hold power. But a little checking on the internet reveals that he is a founding member of the Concord Coalition. I didn't find out what his position on the Bush tax cuts was, but in 2004 he wrote an article for Foreign Affairs warning about the deficit[1]. In short, his concern about the deficit appears to be sincere.


Posted by: KennethAlmquist | July 31, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein,
Has it ever occurred to you that Peter G. Peterson might be lying?


Posted by: sphealey | July 31, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Normally a fan of your work. This post is borderline ridiculous though.

If Peterson truly cares about the neediest constituencies, I am Dog the Bounty Hunter. I realize you're highlighting a specific argument, which can have merit whether it's a real factor in the thinking of the person making it or not, but it's clear that Peterson and Co. are perfectly alright with the neediest constituencies feeling needless pain. To call Peterson and his acolytes "deficit peacocks" would be far too kind. "Deficit leeches" maybe... because of what they want to do and the efficacy of the "fix" they propose.

Note: Peterson supposedly caring about the needy reminds me of FAIR touting their "assessment" of the environmental impact of immigration. Since when did they care about their stated "concern"?

This is evident in the totality of the case Peterson, Walker, and Co. have made. They're shown time and time again that they're either ultra - skeevy liars or colossally misinformed. Judging by the campaign they've waged, I just don't see how it could be honestly disputed that they're full of it.

My sense is that this argument (re: the neediest) is not going to fly with progressives. It's not even going to get off the ground... because it shouldn't.

Enough intellectual and political welfare for Pete Peterson.

I'm with these quys:

They actually have and advocate for progressive values, as opposed to making hollow, completely self - serving appeals to them like Peterson does.

Posted by: michael_conrad | July 31, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Why, you would almost think that Pete Peterson had nothing to do with whipping Congress into a deficit fever, to the point where they're attacking Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment insurance.

Posted by: uberblonde1 | July 31, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

Shorter Peterson: "Let's press Congress to cut Medicare before money gets tight and they... cut Medicare. I care about the poor, really."

Posted by: Traipser | August 2, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

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