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Conrad-Gregg Modified, but not Defanged

by Bruce Webb

In recent weeks there has been some furor over the new push to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to the establishment of a new Deficit Commission based on proposals but forth on the Senate side in Conrad-Gregg or on the House side in Cooper-Wolf. Ezra Klein today tells us (rather scornfully) that really we have nothing to worry about because would just be The Little Commission that Couldn’t. Well Ezra got pawned. Below the fold is my comment to his post.

Ezra you have been pwned a little bit here.

The original Conrad-Gregg proposal had 16 members, 8 R’s and 8 D’s with two D slots allocated to the Administration meaning an 8 to 6 Congressional split between R and D. And in practical terms there would be no way to keep Conrad of Conrad-Gregg and Cooper of Cooper-Wolf off the Commission. If we assume that Republican leadership would name 8 members hostile to Medicare and particularly Social Security, then add in the votes of Conrad and Gregg for ‘reform’ then the Commission starts off with 10 votes for that and with Administration buy-in would have its 12 vote super-majority on the way in the door. You can see a description of the original version here right from Conrad’s office:
http://budget.senate.gov/democratic/documents/2007/bipartisantaskforcehearingrel102307.pdf “Senators Conrad and Gregg introduced the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal
Action Act (S. 2063) on September 18. The bill would establish a 16-member task force comprised of eight Democrats and eight Republicans, designated by Congressional leaders and the President. Fourteen members of the task force would be current Members of Congress, and the remaining two members would be from the current Administration.”

The new proposal by adding two members would change the dynamic a little if they are both congressional democrats thus restoring and 8 to 8 R to D balance among Congressional members but makes the numbers not shift much. Assuming that Conrad and Cooper are two of those eight and Admin buy in progressives dems would have to hold 5 out of the 6 remaining Dems to block action. And given the state of the Senate you know that at least one of the three spots under Reid’s effective control will go to another Conservadem (and Baucus would be a natural choice) giving reformers at least 13 of their needed 14 votes, and if Reid bends and adds a centrist perhaps 14. Even if by some miracle Reid preserves two spots for liberal to progressive members, blocking action would mean Pelosi needing to having to name three defenders of Social Security while blocking any additional Blue Dog or centrist Budget Hawk. Probably not possible and even if it happens leaves progressives staring at a 13 to 5 split and the labels ‘obstructionist’ and ‘denier’. If under that pressure one of the 5 remaining Dems cracks the proposal goes on a fast track basis to Congress where that same dynamic repeats. Having explicitly admitted that there is an ‘entitlements crisis’ by allowing the Commission to be established in the first place Democrats would be stuck in a lose/lose position, allow the bill’s recommendations to be adopted (and no amendments are allowed) or block it and be revealed as feckless tax and spend ostriches with heads firmly stuck in the sand.

Going to 18 members seemingly eliminates the clear imbalance of the original proposal but does not in practice allow the non-Blue Dog democrats anymore than a figleaf of cover.

Update: Baucus comes out strong against Conrad-Gregg, though mostly it seems because he doesn’t want to have his Committee bypassed. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/10/baucus-dont-outsource-my-committee/
This doesn’t change the dynamic much, you could substitute Lincoln or Nelson for Baucus and have the same outcome outlined above.

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Somewhere Peter G. Peterson is weeping.

by Bruce Webb

People who follow the issues around what is known as the Entitlements Crisis are more than familiar with Peter G. Peterson a co-founder and financial sponsor of the Concord Coalition and a man who has devoted a billion dollars of his own money to endow the Peter G Peterson Foundation. The PGP Foundations’s main goal is to roll back not just the Great Society but also the New Deal by convincing America that even in the short run programs like Social Security and Medicare are bankrupting future generations. A good introduction to Pete G P and his works can be found in this cover story in the Nation from last February Looting Social Security

PGP is alive and as far as I know well for a man of his age (83) which is a good thing because if he was in his grave he would be spinning fast enough to be an energy source for a medium sized city. The Republican Party which has been since its inception firmly on message against Medicare and with the PGP agenda has suddenly become Gramma’s biggest defender. This started first with Sarah Palin’s introduction of ‘death panels’ into the discussion. Her partner in clownery, RNC Head Michael Steele decided to double down with this WaPo OpEd Protecting Our Seniors: GOP Principles for Health Care that reads in part:

Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors. That is why Republicans support a Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights, which we are introducing today, to ensure that our greatest generation will receive access to quality health care. We also believe that any health-care reform should be fully paid for, but not funded on the backs of our nation’s senior citizens.

The Republican Party’s contract with seniors includes tenets that Americans, regardless of political party, should support. First, we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of “health-insurance reform.” As the president frequently, and correctly, points out, Medicare will go deep into the red in less than a decade. But he and congressional Democrats are planning to raid, not aid, Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program to fund his health-care experiment. The president also plans to cut hospital payments and Medicare Advantage, all of which will mean fewer treatment options for seniors. These types of “reforms” don’t make sense for the future of an already troubled federal program or for the services it provides that millions of Americans count on.

Somewhere Peterson’s minions Robert Bixby of Concord and former GAO Controller David Walker (now CEO of the PGP Foundation) are sitting pole-axed. Their message was pretty simple, in large part because it is mostly correct, this country cannot afford for Medicare and Medicaid costs to accelerate as they have. Their solution which involves slashing Medicare while not doing much for the rest of health care is not in my view correct, the solution has to be more broad-based. But that portion of Steele’s op-ed bolded by me is in effect the anti-Peterson message. He and his have spent decades trying to drain the juice out of the Third Rail of American Politics and now Steele with his Don’t Tread on Senior Citizens flag is serving to amp up the current in that Rail.

Heck of a job Mikey! Don’t expect your stipend check from the PGP Foundation this week. Because you went WAY off message here. But Gramma sends hugs and kisses.

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