Since Alan Simpson Has the President On the Defensive, House Dems Must Hold the Line

Richard Eskow

Alan Simpson, along with Erskine Bowles, represents a well-funded cadre of spokespeople who are only willing to present a narrow band of corporate- and billionaire-friendly economic policies. There’s just one approach in their world, one which Simpson and Bowles reiterated just this week: Medicare and Social Security benefit cuts for seniors and the disabled and the gutting of middle-class tax breaks, paired with further tax reductions for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

This cynical agenda is all that Simpson represents. If he brings anything else to the table, it isn’t immediately visible. He lacks subject matter knowledge in any of the fields a person must understand to speak knowledgeably on budget issues. He’s not an expert in finance, economics, health care, or social welfare.

Instead, Simpson has demonstrated an embarrassing lack of expertise in the topics he speaks about. That can be seen in his video confrontation with activist Alex Lawson, and it can be inferred from his refusal to publicly debate any of his opponents – or even to acknowledge the many budget solutions which are more popular and more practical than his own (but which are less corporate- and billionaire-friendly).

The corporate government-slashing lobby has been extraordinarily effective, however, in positioning itself as the source of ‘unbiased’ wisdom, and its salespeople like Simpson as kindly, unbiased, and benificient elders.

Yesterday we had the extraordinary experience of hearing Simpson’s words quoted with oracular gravity at a White House press briefing, by a journalist who didn’t even bother rephrasing them in the form of a question. Simpson said the President must cut Medicare and Social Security, warning that if “he can’t cut the mustard in the solvency of Social Security under honest appraisals of the trustees and he can’t get a handle on automatic pilot rate of health care spending, he will have a failed presidency.”

On Medicare, Simpson appears once again to be pushing for a ceiling on the total  amount the program can spend each year. In other words, he’s not interested in solving our health care cost problems (which would inconvenience wealthy corporate healthcare interests). He just wants to see those costs shifted back onto hapless seniors.

And any “honest appraisals of (Social Security’s) trustees” would also include more immediate solutions to the program’s long-term funding issues, like raising the payroll tax cap. But that, too, would inconvenience Simpson’s wealthy backers.

It’s a sign of journalistic laziness that the question was even asked – or rather, since there was no actual question, that a reporter used a Presidential press conference as a platform for repeating Simpson’s corporatist rhetoric.  In our degraded discourse, that sort of thing is to be expected.

But why did Carney spend so much time defending the President against Simpson’s attack by journalistic proxy? Why did Carney boast of the fact that the President has signed into law twice as many spending cuts as tax increases – at a time when the wealthy and corporations still pay historically low actual rates of taxation – instead of bemoaning that fact?

And why is the President of the United States on the defensive toward a minor Washington politician, long since retired, who is now a paid spokesperson for billionaires and corporations? .

Whatever the White House’s motivations, it apparently can’t be trusted to hold the line on these programs. Good thing  the House Progressive Caucus feels differently. It released a letter today signed by 107 House Democrats, which included these words:

“A commitment to keeping the middle-class strong and reducing poverty requires a commitment to keeping Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid strong. We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits, and we look forward to working with you to enact approaches that instead rely on economic growth and more fair revenue-raising policies to solve our fiscal problems.”

The letter explicitly urged the President to avoid the chained-CPI cut, which the letters’ signers said they “deeply opposed.”

What the signers did not do is explicitly pledge to vote against any agreement which includes the chained-CPI cut. They should.  If 107 Democrats refuse to back a Grand Bargain, there’s very little likelihood it will pass.

If the President is going to keep feeling defensive about – of all people – Alan Simpson, it’s going to take some backbone to stop the chained-CPI cut. A “no” pledge from a large group of Democratic House members might be just the kind of backbone the country needs right now.

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