Poor Kent Conrad, he thought that announcing that he was retiring next year would make him seem like a fair broker for massively unpopular budget reduction plans. He pushed the president really hard over creating the Cat Food Commission (threatening to hold up the last debt ceiling raise if it was not created).
That went pretty spectacularly sideways, ending with no Commission report, but instead a report from the two chairs that the not enough of the rest of the Commission would sign on for. It still gets talked about like Simpson-Bowels is the actual report instead of something cooked up by a couple of old coots that it is.
Then Sen. Conrad decided that he could do better and formed the so-called “Gang of Six”. It should have been called “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” for all the success it had. They are supposed to unveil their plan for trying to implement the “old coots” plan which will invariably be misreported as the Simpson-Bowels commission recommendations. That is probably not going to go very well, which is why it is going to be presented to 60 or so Senators in private today.
Meanwhile Sen. Coburn (Douche-OK) the rogue member of the Gang, is also pushing a plan that has something for everyone to hate his own 9 trillion dollar deficit reduction plan. This plan would increase taxes by closing loopholes and would significantly change Medicare and Medicaid.
It would also hit Social Security. If you are inclined to want to change Social Security this plan might attract you. It would not use any of the savings in to reduce the deficit but rather extend the solvency horizon for it. It would increase the eligibility age by 1 month for every two years, starting in 2022. This is just a camels nose under the tent to change the program, at least to my eyes.
It is one thing to say “Oh we are living longer so we should retire later” and it is quite another to be someone who does manual labor for a living and have to spend the years between 65 and 70 or older doing that kind of work. One of the great things about our retirement age and an increase in the average age of mortality is that there are a lot less people dying at work than there had been in the past. Just because we can stave off the end of life longer and longer does not automatically equate to being healthy enough to work later in life, it just means we die later.
In a way Sen. Coburn’s situation is pretty sad. He is right that we do need to make changes to get into a better financial position and we really should plan to whittle the five trillion we borrowed to pay for President Bush’s wars down. We borrowed the money, we have to pay it back sooner or later, with sooner being better.
However, the reason that none of these plans have are not going to have a lot of traction is that the Congress is looking in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fixing our debt and deficit troubles is not going to fix our major problems, unemployment. Oddly enough fixing unemployment would go a hell of a long way to fixing the other troubles.
Is there anyone that would not rather have our employment levels of the mid to late 1990’s even if it meant going back to the tax regime of the time? Okay, you caught me, the know nothing Teahadists supported by the perfidious Koch brothers would, but I tend to leave insane people out of the general calculations, since they are, you know, insane.
Even if we do include them, the fact is that having a lot half the level of un- and under employment that we have now would go a long, long way to filling our Federal coffers. We would be able to talk about raising taxes (really just going back to the Clinton era tax rates) and that would push down our deficits to the point where we could make inroads on the debt.
Until and unless we address the problem of unemployment and lack of demand in the economy we will never have enough money. It is really that simple. Contrary to the Republicans delusions, reducing demand and tax revenue (which then can not flow to the states where it helps to generate jobs) makes these situations worse not better.
It has long been a mystery to me why seemingly smart people like Sen. Conrad are focused on debt reduction before they have addressed the problem that is tied to it on the front end, employment. I get why Sen. Coburn has the focus he does, it looks like an opportunity to trade some temporary cuts in defense spending and closing some loopholes to get a chance to establish that it is okay to whack Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. From that point of view it is a good trade.
But the urgency fails when our ability to borrow money is so strong. We are not Greece or Ireland or Spain or even Italy. We have great credit ratings (assuming Republican fools don’t push us over the edge on the debt ceiling) , we have our own currency, and we have an economy that 40% of the planetary economy. Our issues with debt are not the same as these other nations, for all the fear mongering that they are.
This is a classic Washington situation, where a great deal of time and effort is spent on a solution that is searching for a problem. Sadly there is not a lot we can do about what it is the Congress and the President chooses to work on. We can only voice our very strong disapproval of what the work product they produce.
We will see a lot of the same kind of thinking if the so-called “Hybrid McConnell” passes, what with its insistence on a “Cat Food Commission II – The Wrath of Simpsons Bowels” that will require the House and Senate to create deficit reduction plans which then will be fast tracked for votes without amendments or filibusters. Flying Spaghetti Monster protect us all!