I wrote my initial post in such a hot rage over the proposal to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits that I didn't take the time to edit my blog post (sorry about those strange sentence structures), or take the time to look at the details of the proposal. So now that I have calmly taken some time to do that, I have to admit that I was wrong: this thing is even worse than I originally thought, and I way understated the problems with it. The co-chairs and staff found every conceivable way to screw the middle class in ways big (very big) and small, but barely nicked the bankers who caused the meltdown of the economy, or the wealthy whose massive tax cuts ended the big budget surpluses as far as the eye could see coming out of the Clinton years. Look at some of the different ways middle class and poor people will be gauged by this proposal (and I am probably missing some):
- Raises the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare to 69.
- Cuts Social Security benefits.
- Ends the mortgage tax deduction.
- Ends the tax deduction for workers' health benefits.
- Freezes salaries for federal workers for 3 years.
- Establishes co-pays for veterans at VA health services.
- Raises fees to visit the national parks and the Smithsonian.
- Merges the Small Business Administration into an agency (Commerce) that has always prioritized helping bigger businesses, and cuts their budget.
- Eliminates the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.
Bowles and Simpson claim that they are being progressive by raising the Capital Gains Tax, but they make up for that by cutting corporate taxes and flattening the tax rates, so there is actually less progressivity in the tax code. They do claim some savings in defense spending and contracting, but a bare fraction of what could be saved if you got serious at all about reforming government contracting. And what they don't do is stunning: they don't go back to the Clinton era's tax rates on the wealthy that actually helped balance the budget. They don't impose a financial transactions tax on the speculative trading that did so much to crash this economy. They do nothing to create the jobs of the future that would actually spur the economic growth of the 1990s that were key in creating the budget surpluses of that era.
You know what is most bizarre: all this pain for the economically stressed working and middle class, and they still don't actually balance the budget until 2037. This is one of the worst policy documents I have ever seen -- and I lived through the George W. Bush era! The president that Erskine Bowles, Bruce Reed, and I worked for dug our way out of the big budget deficits of the Reagan/GHW Bush era and created a balanced budget and long term surpluses by doing modest budget cuts, taxes on the wealthy, and strong economic growth. Clinton did it without gouging the middle class in all the terrible ways listed above. We have a bigger hole to dig out of now because of the economic crisis of the George W. Bush era, but we can create a long term balanced budget with the same kind of formula, plus adding a financial transactions tax that would help curb dangerous financial speculation. There is absolutely no call for punishing the very people who have taken all the pain of the economic policies of the last decade. My old friends Erskine and Bruce should know better.
Another old friend of mine, Jon Cowan, writes today in Politico that this proposal is "the only game in town" for reducing the deficit. Not to put too fine a point on it, but what a crock. All we have to do is revisit the policies of the 1990s, minus the financial deregulation. The middle class has been burdened enough to pay for the excesses of Wall St and government contractors. Let's reduce the deficit the right way: by finally asking the people who caused it -- the wealthy who got huge tax cuts, the big banks who caused the economic collapse, and the government contractors who rip off taxpayers -- to make things right.