Obama to Hold Conference on Fiscal Responsibility at WH on Monday
Progressives have been expressing some concern that Pres. Obama will be caught in a conservative frame simply by holding this conference. To counter this apprehensive and define the progressive position on so-called entitlements, Campaign for America's Future hosted a conference call for media, including representatives from various blogs. Unfortunately by an oversight we were not included; however the report below with links is a useful summary of the discussion. I would urge folks to listen to the full audio of the conference. The link is provided below as part of Bill Scher's report which was part of his this-morning Progressive Breakfast news review. As a result of attending the Think Big conference last Wednesday, (my sin to be rectified this coming week.) we have established some contacts with co-thinkers on CAF, who are allowing to cross post. Following Bill's post I will have some addtional comments on the call which I just listened to online. __________________________________________________________________________________________________
Campaign for America's Future hosts media conference with Dean Baker, James Galbraith, Nancy Altman and Roger Hickey, attacking Pete Peterson's defamation of Social Security and Medicare in advance of WH "Fiscal Responsibility Summit." Full audio here.
Key quote from Dean Baker: "we don't have an entitlement crisis. we have a health care crisis ... the horror stories that the Peterson foundation and others have put out there, talking about $54 trillion unfunded liability -- this is a health care story ... if we could zero out Medicare and Medicaid, we could just go 'OK Mr. Peterson, you win, we're getting rid of Medicare and Medicaid tomorrow,' our economy would still be devastated because we haven't fixed health care."
Roger said that several of them had been told they might be invited to the summit, but no formal invitation had been issued yet (though Pete Peterson has his invitation). And while they had initially been told that the summit would address Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which Ezra [Klein] claims [OMB Director Peter] Orszag is desperately trying to separate), now they're hearing from administration sources that nobody is sure.
"It may well be that the plan has been modified" said Galbraith, who was up on the Hill several weeks ago and says the assumption was that the underlying economic problems would be over quite quickly so by the time the summit occurred they could move on to other questions (which is pretty much what Digby says).
"But the administration is getting a reality check, it's got bigger fish to fry" said Jamie. "These problems are simply not the result of the Bush treasury bobbling the ball. We're seeing a true meltdown."
Economist James Galbraith, on a conference call Thursday set up by the group Campaign for America's Future, called it "unfortunate that the White House chose to frame the issues of Monday's meeting" the way it has.
"Threatening, or appearing to threaten, the stability of Social Security benefits is not a constructive contribution," Galbraith said. "Its effect is to raise the anxiety of the working population for whom Social Security and Medicare represent an increasingly important part of their long-term future."
In a letter, Pelosi asked the chairs to "conduct rigorous oversight of all aspects of federal spending and government operations to help achieve deficit reduction and long term fiscal responsibility" and to "scrutinize our budget, promote efficiency, and reduce waste in government spending."
The request begins to satisfy a new rule, proposed by Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and passed by the House in January, that would require committees to hold at least three hearings per year on waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal agencies that fall within their purview.
With the stimulus having thrown regular spending rules momentarily out the window (calling for Pay-Go a week after an unfunded $787 billion behemoth seems a bit incongruous), Pelosi has signaled to Congress' deficit hawks among them an influential faction of her own party that party leaders will keep an eye on restraint and seek to trim in other areas as billions are spent to bail out the financial sector and the public.
I am hopeful that Pres. Obama will use this event to forcefully present the case for the need for supporting social security, and expanding medicare benefits to everyone over 55 as his nest step toward a universal health care program. The speakers made a strong case that there is in fact no social security crisis and that the medicare situation should be seen as part of the overall crisis in healthcare which is presently dragging the US economy down and creating an impossible situation for more and more Americans who are not covered or are paying themselves for medical insurance which is increasingly unaffordable.
The strong point was made that we must take the high road to the path to fiscal responsibility. We should be demanding that social security benefits be increased and even perhaps offered to people at a younger age. This would be a real economic stimulus. Not only is it becoming increasingly difficult to get jobs for older people but their retirement savings have been wiped out. Even if they have capital they can no longer get an income from interest or dividends or stock appreciation. And the savings they thought they had acdrued through the appreciation of their homes have no disappeared. There is a lot of propaganda these days about "inter-generational equity" which is meant to imply that older Americans are robbing future generations when they receive social security or medicare benefits. Thus the word "entitlement" hais given negative connotation by conservatives. The truth however is that the younger generation will be benefitting by the fact that housing prices will have depreciated by at least 30 to 40 percent in a few years making it easier for them to purchase a home.
Social security is the great legacy that FDR left Americans. Older Americans are entitled to a live out their lives decently. They are entitled to inter-generational equity. And working people are entitled to look forward to a decent retirement.