Yesterday Bob Kuttner drew attention to the response put out by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to “Taking Back Our Fiscal Future” (TBOFF), a bit of deficit-hawk propaganda put out by the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and a couple other think tanks.
What’s interesting to me is the question of how the sensible budget centrists at Brookings came to endorse a plan that would force automatic cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ahead of other options such as revenue increases or overall cuts in health spending.
Some of the centrists involved in TBOFF will tell you, and the document says, that they agree only on the process, not on any particular solution. Every possible solution is on the table once the process is fixed. The problem is just that entitlements are “on auto-pilot” and can’t be cut.
That’s not true, however. We cut and control entitlement spending all the time: Just yesterday, the Senate passed a bill to change Medicare spending. Most often, though we do it in big compromises that balance tax increases and spending cuts. More importantly, the TBOFF report classified some solutions -- revenue increases, and controlling health spending through overall health reform -- as “myths,” while others, such as cutting Medicare by asking “many other [seniors] to save more for routine health needs and retirement and to purchase
private insurance” were treated as plausible, even if not endorsed by everyone.
This is a pet idea of the Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler. And while the centrists in the alliance may think they’ve signed on to a benign, open-ended process document, here’s what the Heritage website thinks the document says:
The authors agree on several steps:
The three major entitlement programs should be converted into regular “discretionary” programs that compete on a level playing field with such programs as defense, rather than pre-empting funds for these programs or automatically running up long-term deficits.
Congress and the President should enact long-term budgets for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and be required to review them every five years. The rules for the five-year review must include a trigger or action-forcing device that automatically make changes when projected spending exceeds budgeted amounts.
As of March 31, the Heritage site explainedtheir strategy on entitlements in more detail:
Develop proposals to change the way Congress spends our taxes…
Convince Americans that raising taxes to deal with this challenge only harms growth and pro-growth tax reform [i.e., more cuts] is part of the long-term solution…
With other think tanks and scholars conduct a virtual congressional think tank…an inside-the-beltway strategy.
By 2017, through bipartisan support, halve the unfunded obligations for entitlement programs without raising taxes.
The TBOFF report sounds like the perfect implementation of the Heritage strategy. You may remember Stuart Butler as the author of the famous “Leninist Strategy” for privatizing Social Security. That didn’t work. So now they’ve moved on to what might be called the Popular Front strategy. I use such metaphors advisedly, but just as the Popular Front used a shared opposition to fascism as a vehicle to push Soviet communism, Butler has used the shared concern about long-term deficits as a vehicle to build “bipartisan support,” or at least cover, for far-right and very bad ideas.
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