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February 17, 2009

Social Security, Medicare Reform to Get an “Up or Down” Vote

Posted in: Social Security

Peter Orszag

Next up on Obama’s plate is a February 23 "fiscal responsibility summit," which will be led by Jim Cooper, Judd Gregg, Kent Conrad and other "entitlement reform" fetishists.  On February 24, he’s due to give a "state of the union" style speech before Congress, and according to James Capretta today, he’ll deliver a budget two days later.  The focus is on cost control:

Speaking Friday to business leaders at the White House, the president defended the surge of spending in the stimulus plan, but he made sure to add: "It’s important for us to think in the midterm and long term. And over that midterm and long term, we’re going to have to have fiscal discipline. We are not going to be able to perpetually finance the levels of debt that the federal government is currently carrying."

Capretta says that given the tight time constraints, Peter Orszag — Director of the Office of Management and Budget — is in the driver’s seat:

There has been no time to run an elaborate consensus-building process, with full engagement from every office of government. With such tight deadlines, the only way to get the job done is to give OMB the authority to pull together the data and options for a decision-making process tightly controlled by a few key White House aides.

It also doesn’t hurt OMB’s relative power position that the new Director, Peter Orszag, is seen as a health policy expert in his own right. During his two-year tenure at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), he devoted much of his time to researching and commenting on the reasons for rapidly rising health-care costs.

As we reported the other day, Orszag is co-author of the Diamond-Orszag plan for reforming Social Security, which calls for raising the retirement age and cutting benefits — which the White House has been presenting as the foundation of their plan.

And the Wall Street Journal is reporting that "entitlement reformers" have been given the go-ahead on their dream to short-circuit Congressional approval:

The president met with 44 fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats this week and gave a nod to legislation that would set up commissions to deal with long-term deficit strains. The commissions would then present plans to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

Here’s how The Hill described the plan:

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a member of the Blue Dogs, said that Obama’s call for a bipartisan fiscal summit and his nomination of Gregg show that he’s serious about getting beyond partisanship “so our children’s generation isn’t left to clean up the wreckage.”

The commission, which also has the backing of several conservative House Republicans, would include members of both parties and the administration. The House proposal for the commission, put forth by Reps. Cooper and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), would include members from outside government. Whatever plan the commission comes up with, Congress would have limited opportunities to amend the Cooper-Wolf proposal before voting on it.

Under the Conrad-Gregg proposal, the task force’s plan could not be amended.

Pelosi has opposed such a commission, though Steny Hoyer approved it.  But this morning, Hoyer is encouraging Pelosi to stand up to the Senate where the Republicans have a stranglehold on any legislation that gets passed:

Democrats in the House are also concerned that a knee-jerk deference to the Senate will force them to continuously water down legislation to make life easier for Reid, who is up for reelection next year.

It’s hard to say what the kabuki element in all this is, but Reid is definitely under election pressure and in danger of becoming the next Tom Daschle.  I don’t particularly like the way things are lining up on this.


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