Dean Baker, our favorite pugnacious progressive economist, calls out Alan Simpson, the Republican former senator that Obama tapped to lead his new deficit reduction panel. And indeed, as Dean points out, Simpson probably wants to cut Social Security. Frankly, you could say that about any legitimate Republican who would be tapped for this panel.
So, that said, the simple fact that this commission is specifically asked to get the budget into primary balance by 2015 -- essentially, to somehow reduce the deficit by 1 percent of GDP -- means that broader social insurance programs probably won't come seriously under the knife. There's just no need for major changes in Social Security on such a short time frame. It's actually pretty smart for this commission to focus on medium-term deficit reduction simply because Social Security remains solvent through 2037 and isn't driving today's deficits at all. Simpson will be helpful, though, because he doesn't take tax increases off the table and he says things like this:
Simpson, who informed Boehner and McConnell of his decision to lead the panel, said he has little patience for such talk, especially since Republicans did nothing to cut spending during the George W. Bush administration.
"If they don't participate, they run a real hazard in these times," he said. "The [Senate] election in Massachusetts was not so much a glorious Republican victory as a bunch of people who were damned mad saying, 'Why don't you get a handle on this stuff?' You can't get a handle on it if you don't participate."
In fact, when you compare Simpson to other conservatives, he's practically moderate. Consider this spanking Jon Chait delivers to former Bush economic adviser Greg Mankiw, who thinks the key to any deficit reduction deal is deeply regressive tax cuts. Despite bipartisan freak-outs about this commission, its relatively limited mandate and the sheer inability of anyone on the right to make reasonable claims about balancing the budget means that even if congressional Republicans decide to participate, very little of substance will come of the effort, though the political benefits for Obama and the Democrats may be worth the time.
-- Tim Fernholz