Progressive Leaders Urge Focus on Reviving Growth and Health Reform, Not Cutting Entitlements or Budget Austerity

WASHINGTON – Economists and progressive leaders argued today that Monday’s White House “fiscal responsibility summit” should focus on continuing strategies to grow the economy through public investment and on health care reform, not on cutting Social Security or Medicare – and not on budget austerity plans that could worsen the current serious recession.

Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey said on a conference call with reporters today that the problem with a debate over fiscal responsibility is that right-wingers see it as an opportunity to hijack the agenda to support an attack on vital safety nets.

“Well-funded conservative budget hawks, like Peter Peterson, have tried to dominate the discussion of future budget challenges,” said Hickey. “The conservative budget crusade seeks to cut Social Security and Medicare. Though they sometimes claim to be ‘freeing up’ resources for things like investing in children, their real agenda is austerity – cuts in what they call ‘entitlements,’ cuts in domestic spending, cuts in investment in future growth and productivity.”

Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker joined Hickey on today’s call. Baker said America’s long-term budget problem is almost entirely caused by skyrocketing health care costs.

“We don’t have an entitlements crisis, we have a health care crisis,” said Baker. “If we don’t fix health care, our economy is devastated no matter what else we do. If we do fix health care, the other issues are easy to handle.”

Economist and professor James Galbraith made it clear during the call that with the economic recession deepening, this is the worst time to threaten the stability of Social Security benefits.

“Threatening the stability of Social Security’s guranteed benefits — now or in the long-term — is not constructive,” said Galbraith. “This would raise the anxiety of our working population, since Social Security and Medicare represent an important part of their economic security.”

Nancy Altman, former top assistant to Alan Greenspan on the 1983 Social Security Commission also joined the others experts on today’s call. Altman said that it’s important to get the facts straight about Social Security, especially because it deeply effects the most vulnerable among us – the poor, the aged, the sick, the disabled, the widowed and the orphaned.

“There is a lot of misinformation floating around about Social Security,” said Altman. “The Social Security system has been swept together with Medicare and Medicaid into the alarming sound-bite of an entitlement crisis. But the entitlement crisis frame is highly distorting. Social Security is the most fiscally responsible part of the entire federal budget, and will be in surplus for the next two decades. There is no reason that longer term deficits can’t be addressed simply.”

For more information, read “The Truth About Fiscal Responsibility.”