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Will GOP's fiscal fraudulence save America from the deficit commission?

By Adam Serwer

Adam Serwer is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes his own blog.

Democrats should hope Republicans' deficit fraudulence saves the from the president's Fiscal Commission. Yesterday, the co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, released a proposal for how to reduce the deficit by 4 trillion dollars by 2020 through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

The deficit is a serious long-term problem that needs to be addressed, and that will require some compromises from both sides. But as an expression of the values of political elites, this document is appalling. It recommends that veterans pay for their combat injuries, working people take a payroll tax hike and social security benefits get cut so the government can offer large reductions in taxes for corporations and people in the top income bracket. Conservatives will try to argue that it offers more generous social security benefits for the poor, but it raises the retirement age so, as Paul Krugman points out, those who would benefit are also less likely to live long enough to do so. There's a lot of preening babble about sacrifice from the austerity crowd, but what it comes down to is the idea that the deficit should be balanced at any cost as long as it doesn't involve rich people paying more money.

While there are a few proposals for cuts to agriculture subsidies and defense spending that liberals will probably like, on the whole, the proposal reflects the right-leaning center of gravity on the commission. As Kevin Drum writes, the proposal, which actually caps federal revenue at 21 percent of GDP, "isn't really aimed at deficit reduction. It's aimed at keeping government small." 

That's the key point. Because so far, none of the Republican policy priorities reflect their rhetorical commitment to deficit reduction. Extending the Bush tax cuts will increase the deficit. Repealing the Affordable Care Act will increase the deficit. But the co-chairs proposal reduces the deficit, while at the same time shrinking government, giving rich people tax cuts, and shifting more of the fiscal burden to the middle and working class. The co-chairs should have waited for Dec. 25 and presented it to conservatives in a red stocking. 

The co-chairs proposal, then, is a bit like the Affordable Care Act. Liberals had to make key sacrifices, such as the public option, in order to get it passed. But as imperfect as it was, it was a huge step towards a key liberal policy priority, making sure all Americans have health care. The fiscal commission proposal is much the same thing from a right-wing perspective -- it demands some concessions, but ultimately tilts the ship of state in a conservative direction.

Given Democrats' seemingly unshakeable commitment to political weakness, their best hope may be that Republicans prove to be as obtuse and ideological as they have been for the past two years, and reject the plan for the minor concessions it asks conservatives to make.  

 

By Adam Serwer  | November 11, 2010; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  House GOPers, Senate Republicans, deficit  
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Next: The crux of the issue

Comments

"as it doesn't involve rich people paying more money."

I thought I saw something about people who purely live off stock investing would now be paying the same tax rates as everyone else.

Aren't they rich?

But yeah, Republicans won't cut a dang thing. You saw what making Medicare more efficient turned out to be with the health care reform.

That just goes to prove the only fiscally responsible cuts they are willing to tackle are those that don't directly affect those voting and contributing to their campaigns. That includes the elderly and defense contractors.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | November 11, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Serwer nails my biggest complaint about the proposals. It basically buys into the Republican theories of governance. Revenue is barely increased and spending is attacked mostly along Republican lines.

Yes, there are defense cuts proposed and mild loopholes shut down for capitol gains. But basically the idea is to stop government from helping its own people.

Also what's up with the focus on social security? It is NOT a drag on the deficit. It is PAID for. There is the matter of the expected issue in 29 years, but that can be solved with a minor fix in the way it money is collected for it.

IMO, this whole document is essentially Alan Simpson's wet dream. Bowles simply went along for the ride.

Posted by: Alex3 | November 11, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

And I thought I read there was means testing suggested for SS. Doesn't that mean rich people might be getting less of a return after years of paying into the system?

Posted by: mikefromArlington | November 11, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Great post Adam, spot on.

(See, I'm not overly critical of you, I've just disapproved of some of your stories in the past)

As I said this morning, policy policy policy!

When we demand a rigorous policy debate, we win every single time.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | November 11, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

It is actually worse than you think Adam.

Not enough scrutiny has been put into the idea of nixing the mortgage interest deduction. Without that deduction many, many, many (if not most) middle and lower-middle income people won't be able to itemize their deductions. They just won't have the deductions required to exceed the standard deduction. Why is this important? Because it takes all the incentives written into the tax code and makes them available exclusively to the upper-middle and upper class.

In effect it is creating a parallel tax system available only to the wealthy.

John Edwards was a two-faced D-bag, but he was right about the two Americas thing.

*****

mikefromArlington asks, "I thought I saw something about people who purely live off stock investing would now be paying the same tax rates as everyone else."

I haven't seen the specifics on that, but yes, they tend to be rich. Notice, however, that the earnings from investing are not subject to self employment income. If I sit at my desk prepping tax planning reports, tax returns, or fiscal analysis my income is subject to self employment taxes. If I spend the same amount of time trading stocks, commodities, bonds, etc I get a roughly 15% tax break. This encourages people to be full time investors. Do we want to do that?

Posted by: nisleib | November 11, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

21 Percent ? Add in State governments, county governments and local governments - and the school budgets - all jam-packed with expensive union contracts


AND what does that add up to ???


55 PERCENT ????


Come on folks


Be serious - even that is way too much.

Posted by: OrangeForces | November 11, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Here's the problem I got with many of the "analysis" is everyone's coming at this from an angle.

Many highlight the worst aspects of it and blare them out in BIG BRIGHT RED LETTERS and ignore the rest.

I'm not even sure where I'm supposed to get a middle of the road analysis anymore.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | November 11, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm now 68 and on Medicare. I fully expect that within 20 years, probably sooner, we will have solved the Medicare problem with voluntary assisted suicide for elders who are guilt ridden over the state of the planet we have left our grandchildren.

The Chairman's mark is a plan to have the dead hand of old rich guys ensure that we get to that future.

Posted by: Mimikatz | November 11, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

What universe are we in when the same Congress and President that approved a still ongoing multi trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street criminals now turns around and tries to sell us this boatload of tripe?

Posted by: rarnold1953 | November 11, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

What universe are we in when the same Congress and President that approved a still ongoing multi trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street criminals now turns around and tries to sell us this boatload of tripe?

Posted by: rarnold1953
-------------------------------------
Psssttt...it was a different President that approved TARP.
Although, Obama approved it too while in Congress.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | November 11, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm with Mike on this one. Where can we go to get an even handed analysis of the proposal.

We have some hard work to do to get the deficit under control. We have to have this debate. I am reminded of a question from Socrates: are you trying to win an argument or are you trying to find the truth?

Posted by: skipsailing28 | November 11, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Assembly line workers in China work for as little as 500 dollars a month and yet they are not starving or homeless. Americans that are having difficulty surviving and are willing to work hard should be allowed to emigrate to that developing nation.

Posted by: morristhewise | November 11, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

morristhewise at 11:35 AM

Just Obama's health care plan is requiring workers to get health care benefits worth $300 a month

So how can that compete with such a Chinese worker whose salary is $500 a month?


If you add in family benefits, you are talking $700 a month or more - which is more than the total wages paid to a Chinese worker


So how do you do that?

Plus the government takes about 55 percent of everything we earn with all the taxes at all levels - so where are we going with all of this ?

.

Posted by: OrangeForces | November 11, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

@adam: "The deficit is a serious long-term problem that needs to be addressed, and that will require some compromises from both sides."

I wish Adam would point out for us some of the compromises that the left is willing to make. If the deficit is indeed a long term problem that must be solved, don't most people agree that we must shrink government in some ways? IMO, most Americans are correctly critical of the federal government's size and scope. What's wrong with capping fed revenue as a percentage of GDP?

Posted by: sbj3 | November 11, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

All, here's my take on the crux of the issue in the war over Axelrod's comments on the Bush tax cuts:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/11/the_crux_of_the_issue.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | November 11, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Social Security and Medicare are not part of the deficit problem. All we have to do to "fix" these programs is raise the current income cap which prevents the top 5% of earners from paying SS and Med tax on more of their income, and making G-D sure that our "illustrious leaders" keep their G-D hands out of the funds.

Posted by: caebling | November 11, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

"...the dead hand of old rich guys..."

As long as it is invisible, that is Capitalism and I don't want to hear anything bad about that because we won the cold war (China doesn't realize that, but Timmy says all the investment capital flowing into Asia these days is not a problem).

Posted by: shrink2 | November 11, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

morristhewise at 11:35 AM

I don't think Obama and crew (who are supposed to be so smart) too into account our Trade Deficit with their health care plan

There really has to be a system of tariffs or equalizers to equalize out the additional costs of health care - add that to the price of imports so American workers are on a level playing field.


In many ways, Obama's health care plan sold out American jobs to the international corporations.


.

Posted by: OrangeForces | November 11, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm really just tired of liberals constantly repeating the meme that Dems are "weak".

When someone is getting bullied - and let's face it, the GOP and their massive DC media machine bully the Dems at every turn - the proper way to handle it is NOT to simply be a bigger bully so they listen to you.

As a metaphor:
Imagine if a child (Dems) came home and said that a group of kids (GOP+Media+Outside Con Groups) ganged up and beat the crap out of him.

Would the proper response from the parent (liberals, in this case) be to start yelling at the kid about how weak he is, how he never stands up for himself, then lists a bunch of reasons he got beaten up and threatens him if he does any of those things again they'll spank the child when they get home (probably after getting beaten up again)?

Yeah, that's the way to properly motivate the child to stand up for themselves, and to alter behavior in a postive way.

That works f*cking wonderfully.

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | November 11, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Go see Inside Job.

These bought "experts" telling us to continue the private expropriations to a handful of well-connected scoundrels, are bogus.

The stealing must stop.

Those who have stolen trillions from the American people need to disgorge what they plundered now.

Posted by: inojk | November 11, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

As both political parties represent the rich--and in fact, in any political system it is the rich who get represented--I am sure whatever resolution of the deficit/debt situation comes, it will minimize any impact on the rich and be borne mostly by the poor.

Posted by: guitar1 | November 11, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I like the idea of a means test for SS. I have a retired neighbor. She is a millionaire. She spends money like there is no limit to her wealth, all the while she gladly accepts her monthly SS check of about $3,000. She should not get a cent in SS.

Posted by: DavidinDallas | November 11, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I keep asking myself just how far this has to go in the US before people wake up and really get protesting.

The aim of the cat-food commission

Reduce federal spending and increase revenue

The aim of the tax cuts

To give these savings to the rich.

I might say they are irreconcilable but that depends on your point of view, if I was looking to benefit the wealthiest of us then this is exactly what I would do, and it's a beautiful strategy devised by those who just purchased the US elections.

Couple these two ambitions with the (foreign) Citizens United decision and you gain a throttle-hold on the economy that will be nearly impossible to break.

Posted by: losthorizon10 | November 11, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I would suggest that Boehner/McConnell start on their crusade to eliminate expensive socialized medical plans by starting to rescind BoehnerMcConnellCare (aka Medicare Part D) passed in the dead of night by the Tom Delay and his army of sycophants. At the time is was the largest expansion of socialism since Medicare was originally passed. Does no one remember the government whistle blower who was threatened with losing his job if the true cost of the bill was revealed? TeaBaggers do you remember? Glenn, Rush? Rightwing pundits and/or talking heads? I didn't think so.

Posted by: mickster1 | November 11, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I would suggest that Boehner/McConnell start on their crusade to eliminate expensive socialized medical plans by starting to rescind BoehnerMcConnellCare (aka Medicare Part D) passed in the dead of night by the Tom Delay and his army of sycophants. At the time is was the largest expansion of socialism since Medicare was originally passed. Does no one remember the government whistle blower who was threatened with losing his job if the true cost of the bill was revealed? TeaBaggers do you remember? Glenn, Rush? Rightwing pundits and/or talking heads? I didn't think so.

Posted by: mickster1 | November 11, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

A simple solution to the deficit and taxes.

Have two tax rates.

Anyone who works for the government or has a government contract pays double the tax rate everyone else pays.

Posted by: jfv123 | November 11, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Nisleib's point about what the elimination of the mortgage deduction will do to middle-class taxpayers' ability to itemize is a good one. Another problem with it that doesn't seem to enter into the conversation is what it will do to home values. Since a potential home buyer takes the deduction into account in calculating the actual cost of a home, its elimination will inevitably cause the value of existing homes to decrease. If you think that the number of "underwater" mortgages caused by the economic crisis is a problem, you ain't seen nothing compared to what the elimination of the mortgage deduction would do.

This loss of equity will affect middle-class taxpayers proportionally far more than the wealthy. Yes, rich people have more expensive homes, and will probably see a greater loss of home value, but their homes account for a far smaller share of their net worth than with the middle class.

If this loss of the deduction is coupled with reduced tax rates for the wealthy, as this proposal would do, it represents yet another enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich.

Posted by: rashomon | November 11, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I like the idea of a means test for SS. I have a retired neighbor. She is a millionaire. She spends money like there is no limit to her wealth, all the while she gladly accepts her monthly SS check of about $3,000. She should not get a cent in SS.

Posted by: DavidinDallas
*************************

Chances are, the bulk of the SS benefit she receives is thanks to her (presumably, the way she apparently spends) deceased husband.

Posted by: abqcleve | November 11, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

A simple solution to the deficit and taxes.

Have two tax rates.

Anyone who works for the government or has a government contract pays double the tax rate everyone else pays.

Posted by: jfv123
***********************

Prima facie confirmation of why America should ignore the tea party children....

Posted by: abqcleve | November 11, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

The loss of the mortgage-interest deduction will not affect most middle-class home-buyers, as it will only affect mortgages over $500K, and the median home price in the U.S. is somewhere under $200K at the moment. Thus, "the rich" will likely be paying a lot more in taxes simply because they tend to purchase more-expensive homes with larger mortgages.

Also, heavily taxing unearned income such as that gained through investments will disproportionately affect retirees. Most retirees do not live on Social Security alone -- they live on the combination of Social Security and the income produced from investments and savings (i.e. "retirement planning). For those who worked and saved all their lives to enjoy a comfortable retirement, this is a double whammy.

Posted by: dcgirl1899 | November 11, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Also, heavily taxing unearned income such as that gained through investments will disproportionately affect retirees. Most retirees do not live on Social Security alone -- they live on the combination of Social Security and the income produced from investments and savings (i.e. "retirement planning). For those who worked and saved all their lives to enjoy a comfortable retirement, this is a double whammy.

Posted by: dcgirl1899
****************************

A favored lie in conservative land. It sounds so reasonable; we really ought to be concerned about the poor widows, don't you think?

Except that's not how it works for the elderly. Many people invest in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds through a tax-deferred retirement account. IRAs, Roth IRAs, and 401(k) plans are examples of tax-deferred accounts. Your investment profits in tax-deferred accounts are NOT reported as capital gains. Instead, income from these accounts is tax-deferred until the money is withdrawn, and then the income is taxed as ordinary income, generally in a lower income bracket, unless you made tons of money in your working life.

Come on, conservatives: if you have to lie to make a point, you have no standing in the argument.

Posted by: abqcleve | November 11, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Scrap this stupid commission, throw Erskine and Simpson in an insane asylum, never enact anything like this, give up on this bi-partisan crap.

Posted by: bigisle | November 11, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

this "plan" is DOA for several reasons:

1. Neither party is willing to ask its special interest cronies to sacrifice to the degree necessary to make a dent in the deficit. Both are deathly afraid if they ask these groups to sacrifice they will lose them at the polls next time around. The politicians see any degree of support for a program of shared sacrifice as political suicide not statesmanship.

2. The inertia of our Federal government and the necessity of gaining approval from both HOuses of Congress to a single plan will make it impossible to consider such a far ranging and comprehensive fix much less ever bring it to a vote.

3. The American people, by and large, do not believe the crisis is as dire as it actually is; they have been spared such draconian considerations in the past by another increase in the debt ceiling and more borrowing from China; they expect this game to continue ad infinatum; most Americans do not understand we are at, or have passed, a tipping point.

In the private sector a company teetering on the brink of insovency first brings in a turnaround specialist whose first order of business is to cut, cut, and cut some more from the company's operating expenses and overhead; that means people and jobs. But, merely mention that possibility to a public employee and you get squealing unlike anything ever experience when a company is forced to downsize for survival; we have created a myth that it is not possible to cut any jobs or programs from government because to do so would hurt the people. Public sector employees seem to not understand no one is indispensable and no job safe enough when the survival of the corporate entity is at stake.

I like the thrust of this plan which cuts just about every sacred cow from Social Security to defense spending to subsidies for profitable corporations which do not need them But, in the fairness of this approach is the seeds of its destruction; every one will line up to say he/she is OK with the cuts so long as the do not come from them.

We are about to experience two years of gridlock in DC but it will pale in comaparison to the gridlocke which will be evident when all sides in any program to reduce deficits start dumping on the other sides to protect their own interests. And, in the end we will emerge with the same old problem we have now: the United States wants a government it cannot afford. And, inevitably we will experience what happens when you carry such unsustaiable spending to its obvious conclusion: insolvency, national bankruptcy and pain unlike anything we might experience if we went along with what is being recommended now.

See the kids rioting in London over higher tuitition. That will be a walk in the park the day the SS checks bounce, your doctor wont't take Medicare and the Chinese call the bonds.

Posted by: bobfbell | November 11, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The major shortcoming I see to the proposals is that they do not offer assisted suicide to the elderly, which would save lots of money and save the old folks from enduring years of grinding poverty.

Perhaps also the government could offer negative taxes for those whose income is over a million a year to encourage them to spend more so that more peasants can be employed.

Perhaps we should allow those who can afford it to accept those who are insolvent into serfdom. After all, serfdom worked fine for hundreds of years.

Posted by: samsara15 | November 11, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

In "A Modest Proposal" Jonathan Swift suggested that the Irish eat the children of the poor to solve fiscal problems. How about it President Obama, Blue Dogs, Republicans, tea partiers and Grover Norquist? Good idea huh?
This will kill two birds with one stone since the elderly poor will all soon be dead once the catfood commission (Obama picked them) has its way. Getting rid of poor elderly people and poor children will be a slam dunk. They're useless and worthless to society anyway.

Posted by: shapiromarilyn | November 11, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why the commission didn't recognize the cost of maintaining the federal fleet of vehicles. It would save money not to service them or change the oil for several years. That plan seems about as far sighted as impoverishing the middle class.

Posted by: julie10 | November 11, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

One problem with coming up with solutions to our debt is that so many people in our country totally lack any critical thinking skills and will swallow misinformation, hook, line and sinker. Kind of like the Fox fueled lie that President Obama's trip to India will cost $200 million per day. People don't recognize lies, misinformation even when it's so outrageous it doesn't make any sense, and then they repeat it over and over. Heaven help us!

Posted by: MNUSA | November 11, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Serwer? Somebody do a spell check.

Posted by: carlbatey | November 11, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Eliminating Bush tax cuts would save $4 billion over 10 years, Obama's deficit commission proposal saves only $1.5. The choice is clear.

Posted by: paulnolan97 | November 11, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Have fun when inflation is 25%. Without across the board austerity, meaning run away government expansion, including corraling illegal alien explosion in this country, you could let those tax cuts expire and the country still dies. Guess that isn't politically cool, but that is the fact, Jack. Once the internet doesn't work, you won't have a job.

Posted by: Gooddogs | November 11, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Despite the ten year propaganda war of the Republicans, Social Security is doing fine and will continue to do fine by removing the income cap. Republicans want to abolish the achievements of the twentieth century and return us to the Gilded Age. They are the scum of the earth and should be treated as such.

Posted by: rusty3 | November 11, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Why waste the ink? The deficit commission is toast. It would take both a Democratic House and Senate to implement any of the suggestions, and that simply won't happen.

Posted by: mike85 | November 12, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

Bowles-Simpson "Bi-partisan" Deficit Commission is a scam:

1. Recommendations weren't generated, according to Fiscal Commission Charter & By-Laws, by "judgment and views" of 18 bi-partisan members. They were generated by Co-Chairs, a small cabal of GOP & Blue Dog Democrats & anti-Social Security Concord Coalition.

2. Recos were not reviewed by 18 members prior to release to media and American public, or subjected to requisite 14-vote approval. Annoyed members are already on record stating disapproval with many recommendations.

3. Concord Coalition "dedicated to educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits, the long-term challenges facing America's unsustainable entitlement programs.." was one of 90 groups to make presentations on June 30. Track the presentation to Bowles-Simpson Draft?
http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/meetings/public-forum/1/Robert_Bixby_6_30_2010.pdf

3. Deficit Commission documents, meeting minutes, website make no special reference to Concord Coalition. But CC website has section dedicated to Commission & features 8 "Fiscal Commission Updates" issued between April 26 & Nov 12, and Bowles-Simpson publicity is featured under "Concord in the News"!
http://www.concordcoalition.org...

CC release issued on Nov 2, " Bipartisan Panels' Recommendations Could Provide an Antidote for Ill-advised Campaign Rhetoric", a week prior to Bowles-Simpson media blitz, suggests CC knew more about Commission's recommendations than the actual Commission!

4. Commission Charter says zero about releasing exclusively created draft recos to media & public BEFORE Commission members or Congress have a chance to see/review/approve. On Nov 10, Co-Chairs Bowles-Simpson staged 'guerilla' press conference & media blitz...when Pres was conveniently in Asia.

David Axelrod said WH found out 1 hour before it started and he had to download the Draft recommendations off internet! Commission members were similarly sideswiped. Not Pete Peterson, Concord Coalition founder; he issued a statement re Draft on Nov 10 to coincide with press event & CC issued a Nov 11 release. How did he/they know when Commission members didn't?
http://www.pgpf.org/Issues/Fiscal-Outlook/2010/11/10/Draft-Proposal-by-the-Co-Chairs-of-the-National-Commission-on-Fiscal-Responsibility-and-Reform.aspx
http://www.concordcoalition.org/press-releases/2010/1111/concord-coalition-applauds-bowles-simpson-deficit-reduction-framework

5.Bowles-Simpson Draft is 80% conservative Concord Coalition - there's little of more progressive thinking like excellent Economic Policy Institute recommendations:
http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/meetings/public-forum/1/John_Irons_6_30_2010.pdf

6. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), Tom Coburn (R-OK) had prior connection to CC.

Before getting into the recommendations, the public has a right to transparency on this Commission - an investigation should be done.

Posted by: TruthFairy | November 13, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

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