As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On "Fiscal Responsibility."

You know, I'm not knee-jerk opposed to fiscal discipline. There's unquestionably a lot of government waste, expenditures that are unnecessary, and programs that remain due to inertia. Many of these are in the defense sector, but that's another story. The problem is that very rich and well-heeled groups have been using the rhetoric of "fiscal responsibility" to wall off their profits and screw everybody else for decades, if not centuries. The term is no longer used in good faith. Which is why the very idea of a fiscal responsibility summit is terrifying, especially with the news that entitlements may be able to be cut with a majority vote:

Speaking Friday to business leaders at the White House, the president defended the surge of spending in the stimulus plan, but he made sure to add: "It's important for us to think in the midterm and long term. And over that midterm and long term, we're going to have to have fiscal discipline. We are not going to be able to perpetually finance the levels of debt that the federal government is currently carrying."

Along those lines, White House budget director Peter R. Orszag has committed to instituting tougher budget-discipline rules -- once the economy turns around. Those include a mandate that any "nonemergency" spending increases be offset by equal spending cuts or tax increases [...]

Obama aides say they aren't looking for quick action, but a start to the conversation. "We're going to bring some things to the table, but we're going to listen to everybody else," said Christina Romer, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in an interview Friday. "It's a giant issue, and it's not one we can solve unilaterally."

The president met with 44 fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats this week and gave a nod to legislation that would set up commissions to deal with long-term deficit strains. The commissions would then present plans to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

"We feel like we've found a partner in the White House," said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D., La.), a Blue Dog co-chairman.

It sure looks like it.

Jane Hamsher is extremely skeptical of this whole thing, especially Peter Orszag, who she notes is the author of "the Diamond-Orszag plan for reforming Social Security, which calls for raising the retirement age and cutting benefits." I actually like Orszag because he's talked repeatedly about how health care spending is what will torpedo the economy, and that only comprehensive reform that brings down costs will save it. That's the good side of "fiscal responsibility." So is demanding that excellent adventures in Iraq or bailouts to banksters are paid for.

But gutting Social Security during an economic crisis is just outrageous. And progressives won't stand for it. Already Obama appears to be breaking promises by agreeing to this up-or-down vote on entitlements. He will hear from the great mass of Americans on this one. With private pensions going down the drain, if anything we need Social Security benefits INCREASED to a level where people can live off them. And we can easily pay for it by lifting the cap (you can even create a doughnut hole between $100,000 and $300,000 to unburden the upper middle-class). Why any self-respecting Democrat would screw with the most successful program in government history is beyond me.

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