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The first meeting of Obama's fiscal commission. (AP)

Has Obama created a Social Security 'death panel'?

ASK THIS | May 21, 2010

If the press doesn't ask tough questions and stand up for the little guy, the powerful interests stacking President Obama’s deficit commission will use it to cut the social programs that most help the middle class and the vulnerable.

By Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson
erkingso@syr.edu and njalt@aol.com

President Obama and the leadership in Congress have delegated enormous, unaccountable authority to 18 unrepresentative, inordinately wealthy individuals. The 18 individuals are meeting regularly, in secret, behind closed doors, until safely beyond this year’s mid-term election. If they reach agreement, their proposal will be voted on in December by a lame duck Congress, without the benefit of open hearings and deliberations in the pertinent committees and without the opportunity for open debate and amendment on the floors of the House and Senate. Despite the speed and lack of accountability, the legislation will affect, in substantial ways, every man, woman, and child in this nation.

Who are these powerful people and what are their views?

They are the members of President Obama’s newly-formed National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. They lack racial and gender diversity, and more importantly, they lack diversity of opinion. Their mantra is that “everything is on the table,” but their one member who has any expertise with respect to defense spending, for instance, is the CEO of a major defense contractor that devotes millions of dollars each year to lobby Congress for more defense spending.

“Everything is on the table,” they say, but the members appointed by the minority leaders in the House and Senate have made clear that they do not believe that the problems in this country stem from under-taxing, rather from overspending. The one area that they seem to be in agreement on -- and which they are in fact, focusing on like a laser -- involves programs that help the middle class and those Americans who are the most vulnerable. Even liberal Senator Richard Durbin has stated, “the bleeding-heart liberals… have to…make real sacrifices to strengthen our nation.”

The co-chairs, in particular, seem to have a clear agenda. Even before the commission held its first meeting, Erskine Bowles went on record before the North Carolina Bankers' Association saying that if the Commission doesn't "mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security ... America is going to be a second-rate power" in his lifetime. (And he is already 64!) Alan Simpson, known for giving ugly voice to harsh, ageist stereotypes, described the future of the fiscal commission: "It'll be a bloodbath. Let me tell you, everything that Bush and Clinton or Obama have suggested with regard to Social Security doesn't affect anyone over 60, and who are the people howling and bitching the most? The people over 60. This makes no sense. You've got to scrub out [of] the equation the AARP, the Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the Gray Panthers, the Pink Panther, the whatever. Those people are lying... [They] don't care a whit about their grandchildren...not a whit." (For more about Alan Simpson, see Trudy Lieberman in CRJ: More Words of Wisdom from Alan Simpson.)

We write to raise questions and encourage press inquiry now, before the commission reports, at which point its recommendations could be on track and moving fast. Here are a few angles to explore:

Q. Have the members of the Commission made up their minds, at least with respect to the broad outlines, making the whole exercise simply an effort by elected officials to escape political accountability?

Q. Why is the Commission apparently working so closely with billionaire Peter G. Peterson, who served in the Nixon administration and who has a clear ideological agenda?

Q. Mr. Peterson has been on a decades-long crusade against Social Security. The day after the first meeting of the commission, which focused heavily on the need to cut Social Security, the co-chairs and two other members of the commission participated in a Peterson event that reinforced the same message. A Peterson-funded foundation is supplying commission staff. And Peterson’s foundation is funding America Speaks to develop a series of high-profile town halls across the country to host “a national discussion to find common ground on tough choices about our federal budget.” (For more background about Mr. Peterson, see William Greider in the Nation on Looting Social Security -- Part 2.)

Q. Why the urgent focus on Social Security? In the past, Social Security has always been considered under the normal legislative process, with the opportunity for full amendments. According to the program’s actuaries, it is able to pay all benefits in full and on time for over a quarter of a century. Even its most diehard critics, who try mightily to convince the rest of us that the program is in crisis, can’t mount an argument that there is a problem for another five years or so. So what is the rush? What is the need for such an unaccountable, fast-tracked process when one has never been needed before? Why, in spite of the evidence that Social Security is working as intended and that there is growing need for the kind of broad and reliable protection provided under the program, is it being singled out by Bowles and Simpson and seemingly by the White House for a major trimming?

Q. The American public has stated in a number of polls that they prefer to increase the program’s revenue, even if it means them paying more, rather than reducing the benefits that are so vital to almost all its beneficiaries. (See, for example, this May 2005 Gallup Poll.) So why does the commission seem so determined to ignore the views of the American people, and insist that there must be benefit cuts?

Q. The members of the commission wrap themselves in the mantle of their children and grandchildren. Alan Simpson routinely says that he is a stalking horse for his grandchildren. This is good, but what about everyone else’s grandchildren? Especially those lacking privileged backgrounds; those more likely to need strong retirement, disability and survivorship protections as they grow and raise their own families and hopefully eventually reach retirement age? If these commissioners’ focus is on all grandchildren, shouldn’t they be more focused on investments today to ensure that their parents have good-paying jobs and that they can receive a first rate education? Why do they seem so intent on cutting the benefits of that future generation? As Simpson himself has made clear, he intends to spare today’s elderly, which means it is the benefits of the next generation which will be cut.

Q. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, are there efforts to buy off the press? Just in time for this commission, Mr. Peterson, not content to buy access, has now used his fortune to establish his own news service, so the story gets reported his way. The Fiscal Times is likely to be active in reporting about the commission. Given that Mr. Peterson’s son, Michael, has the power to hire and fire the two top editors, will its reporting be objective? Its first effort did not inspire confidence. (See Trudy Leiberman’s Dust up at the Washington Post and Richard Perez-Pena’s Sourcing of Article Awkward for Paper.)

At a time when the nation has near double-digit unemployment, when many responsible economists believe we could, without additional federal spending, experience a deeper recession, it is imperative for the press to ask the hard questions. Our elected officials should not be given a pass on an austerity approach that could have serious, long-ranging implications for all Americans, and particularly those most vulnerable. They have no one to protect them but an open, inquiring press.

Diversity hypocracy
Posted by M. Atmar
06/23/2010, 11:08 PM

Shalom Altman and Kingstein of the Nieman School!

From the 2nd paragraph of your article:

"They lack racial and gender diversity, and more importantly, they lack diversity of opinion."

....Altman and Kings(tei)on from the Nieman School. Oh yeah, I forgot the need for Diversity does not count for Harvard or the Suupreme court.

Retired financial advisor
Posted by Ann
06/24/2010, 11:24 PM

Many people that receive benefits do not need them. We need an income limit to be eligible. Yes, I know you paid into the system, but you have way too much income to need s.s. too. You forfeit your contributions and they go to people who really need it.
Most people do not realize they are paid back everything they paid into s.s in 3-4 years. So it is not that much that they are sacrificing.
S.S. was originally meant to only provide 1/3 of your retirement income, you and your employer were supposed to provide the rest. Now employers don;t do it, so you have to save your own money too. What a novel idea.
Why are you people making a living off of this issue? Can you not try and do what is right for the country instead of your own pocket books?

Why would that surprise anyone?
Posted by LiarLiar
06/30/2010, 03:03 PM

he tried to get abortion and euthanasia into the Health Care Bill - he's already proven that the unborn are insignifcant and costly problems to him. Why would you think that the elderly matter to someone who doesn't want to take responsibility for unborn babes?

Why would that surprise anyone?
Posted by LiarLiar
06/30/2010, 03:05 PM

he tried to get abortion and euthanasia into the Health Care Bill - he's already proven that the unborn are insignifcant and costly problems to him. Why would you think that the elderly matter to someone who doesn't want to take responsibility for unborn babes?

One of those "wealthy" taxpayers
Posted by Ken
07/01/2010, 01:16 PM

If everything is truly "on the table", it is high time that we quit paying anything for illegal aliens and their children.
Schools, healthcare, welfare, etc.

It is unbelievable that we would cut anything for true American citizens before eliminating every cent being spent on non-citizens (including anchor babies).

It is even more unbelievable that the Dems want to legalize this group. The additional cost to Social Security and O'Bama subsidized healthcare will kill any chance of paying our debts.

Posted by Eric Siverson
07/23/2010, 07:33 PM

Sounds like a good commision to me . Maybe we will have to cut medicare ,social security , and medicaid . But weve got a lot of places to cut before this . I'll just mention a few , Space exploration , the department of education is just a duplicate of the states deptment . Government guarantees of bankrupt companies and states , mostly cuased by unbelievable lucrative pensions ,which are also guaranteed by this government . Congress themselves special health insurance and pensions . to say nothing of all the federal employees , the department of agriculture , The department of interior , The CIA , And The over blown department of defence which if it was only 1/4 as big would still be the most powerfull militarty on earth .
With only some of these cuts ,we most likely could balance our budjets , but we have a lot more things to look at , As we have a very low tax rate for our wealthiest citizens . I think we could aford medicare for evreyone . especialy if we could somehow put price controles on our high class medicial services , We could easily let the free market do this for us . by taking away the doctors rights to impose pediments to young people trying to become doctors .
In plain english let the patients decide how many doctors we need not the doctors . There are two kinds of republicans , one kind wants to support free enterprise and liberty , the other kind wants flat taxes and be allowed to keep as much money as possible , no matter what the consequences to the country as a whole .

Posted by baboon
09/24/2010, 02:51 PM

You must not have liked my question

Cut defense-keep social security and medicare
Posted by Coleman
11/15/2010, 10:31 PM

I'm with you guys. We should protect social security. We should cut military spending, especially star wars and missle defense. A few adjustments, such as lifting the cap on social security income and a one or two per-cent increase in the fica tax, would correct the problem. I do not understand why they are always trying to destroy social security and keep something like star wars.

Posted by bob mcmillan
12/16/2010, 01:50 PM

yes we should cut defence....the missile program has enough missiles to wipe out the whole world five times over, why???we could make the congressmen and senators go on social security and medicare just like the rest of us....their retirement plan should be no better than the working class...put a stop to all the fraud and pork barrel handouts...i could go on forever on the waste the politicians make....

Posted by Reinaldo Valdes
04/16/2011, 06:09 AM

Cut war spending and cut the Pentagon contractors, THROW OUT those, every where, INCLUDING ELECTED OFFICIALS who allowed that BILLIONS WHERE FROUDELENTLY BILKED OUT OF MEDICARE, and looked the OTHER WAY WHILE WALL STREET TOGETHER WITH THE NATIONS BANKERS secutarized mortgages and STOLE TRILLIONS, and pay back the billions UNFAIRLY TAKEN by the TREASURY from the Social Security and LEAVE the Medicare and Social Security benefits that BELONG TO THE ELDERLY, and those who need it and, will need it ALONE. STop messing with teachers and other professional workers and public servants. UNgreatful BASTARDS

Posted by Bob Marshall
05/22/2011, 05:59 PM

Why is this such a surprise. look at the news media today. How many CEOs' of these organizations are members of The Council on Foreigen Affairs as are their broad casters.If congress had to survive upon retirement with Social security the same as most of America their atitude would change greatly.Can you or i vote us a $10,000.00 pay raise.Are they under a program like Medicare and Medicaid. No! Why should they care about the average American? The government can spend three trillion dollars on the Iraqi Wars but no pay increases for Social Security for three years. Wars i spoke out against because i considered the facts not public opinion. i was called unpatroitic and a traitor. i would be unpatroitic if i remained silent. I felt the same about Kuwait. Although i turned out to be correct in both instances the injustices had been done. Since i have many questions about 9/11 i have been ridiculed again. Such is the life of one who doesn't believe the CIA led news media.One day the whole truth will come out as who was behind the worst tradgey on US soi. Hilter stated his most powerful weapon was propaganda. It works in America just as well. I wonder since an attack on Iran is assured what excuse will the government use to bomb Iran.Showing the nuclear bombs to be used on the internet should give America cause for alarm. Only on ecountry has usd nuclears bombs and nuclear weapons in war. The fact that nuclear bombs and nuclear weapons containing depleated uranium in Iraq should be investigated. Like 9/11 it probably will never happen.Having served three tours in Vietnam as a Marine i was shocked to find that 50% of the casulaties in South Vietnam were civilians. The bombing of North Vietnam cause the death of more than 85,000 civilians. In Iraqq the total is staggering. 90% civilians. It seems that 50% 0f the American casualities were killed by the emeny. I won't bother to post the things the US and Nato troops did to Iraq here because the list is too long.I will say that America has more to be afraid from Washington than from foregin terrorist.The majority voted for change and got it. More loss of freedom, more spending and more interventions in other middle east countries.Unless The Federal Reserve is abolished and we find a man or woman that believes in the principles upon which this nation was founded there is little hope for America to be free. That doesn't mean filling his cabinet with lobbyist, CFR,TC,or Bilderberg Group members nor former PNAC members.

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