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Dean Baker | Time to Put the Deficit Commission Out of Our Misery

Tuesday, 06 July 2010 10:18 By Dean Baker, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

Dean Baker | Time to Put the Deficit Commission Out of Our Misery
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: russelljsmith, mag3737)

It's time to stop wasting the taxpayers' money and shut down President Obama's deficit commission. It is now clear that it has become a national joke.

One of the co-chairs of the commission is former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson. Simpson is often touted in the media for his plain-spoken man of the people ways. The media version doesn't quite fit the facts. Simpson worked his way up to the Senate from being the son of a former Wyoming senator.

When it comes to the issues being addressed by the commission, Simpson is not really in touch with reality. In fact, he is so delusional that he thinks most seniors are as rich as he is. He has repeatedly said that he wants to cut Social Security benefits for people who are driving their Lexus into their gated community. That may be the world of Senator Simpson and his friends, but very few other seniors are in this boat. The typical household over age 65 gets by on less than $30,000 a year.

Senator Simpson not only has a tenuous grip on reality, he also has difficulty controlling himself. In fact, Senator Simpson has such difficulty controlling himself that the commission had to move their hearings to a secret location after Senator Simpson embarrassed himself in an interview with a 25-year old reporter. Apparently, because they were worried that he would be unable to avoid embarrassing himself again in a future encounter, the commission decided to hide out in an undisclosed location where Simpson could be kept away from any reporters as he entered and left the meetings, which were already being carried on in secret.

The other co-chair of the commission is Erskine Bowles. In addition to his position as commission co-chair, Bowles also sits as a director of Morgan Stanley, one of the Wall Street banks that would have gone bankrupt without the taxpayer bailout two years ago. Last week, Bowles revealed himself as a numerologist. (Numerologists are people who worship specific numbers.) He said that he thought that federal spending should be restricted to 21 percent of GDP, apparently expressing his reverence for the number "21."

Most serious policy analysts believe that government should provide services that it does more efficiently than the private sector (e.g. defense), while leaving services it does less efficiently to the private sector. However, Bowles apparently thinks that the government should instead adhere strictly to his magical 21 percent number. This means that Bowles would insist that the private sector provides services, even if it can be shown that the public sector is more efficient, because of his reverence for the number 21. In other words, Bowles is apparently prepared to slow growth and cost workers jobs out of his devotion to the number 21.

The current economic downturn is entirely attributable to incompetent economic management. Any competent economist could have recognized the $8 trillion housing bubble and it was easy to design policies that would have reined it in before it grew large enough to wreck the economy. Unfortunately, almost without exception, the incompetents responsible for the economic disaster still have jobs, even though 15 million people don't.

The country can't afford having more incompetents in positions of responsibility. It's time to shut down the deficit commission and save the taxpayers a few dollars.

Senator Simpson has spent decades railing against the Social Security and Medicare benefits upon which less fortunate retirees depend. Bowles apparently also looks with disdain on those who can't count on a paycheck from Wall Street banks. Both have every right to push for cutting or eliminating Social Security and Medicare. But, they should not be pursuing their agenda on the taxpayers' nickel. Senator Simpson should raise the money from his Lexus-driving friends in gated communities.

And, if Bowles wants to attack Social Security and Medicare, he can ask his friends on Wall Street, who were saved by the taxpayer bailout, to cough up the money from their own pockets. We know that the Wall Streeters hate seeing government money going to anyone but them, but since they got so much of our money already, can't they finance their attack on Social Security and Medicare out of their own pockets?

The country has real problems, starting with the 15 million people who can't find jobs. We don't need to use taxpayer dollars to create more problems with a deficit commission that has explicitly set out to target Social Security and Medicare. Let's make the deficit commission history.

Dean Baker

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University. He is a regular Truthout columnist and a member of Truthout's Board of Advisers.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 July 2010 15:06