Just in time for Halloween, Obama’s nightmare “Grand Bargain” once again rears its ugly head. Yesterday morning Bloomberg’s Joshua Green followed a hunch and attended a briefing by the President’s top economic adviser (who is not an economist). According to Green, Sperling told Democrats “they’ll have to swallow entitlement cuts.”
In his usual elliptical and prolix way, Sperling seemed to be laying out the contours of a bargain with Republicans that’s quite a bit different that what most Democrats seem prepared to accept. What stood out to me was how he kept winding back around to the importance of entitlement cuts as part of a deal, as if he were laying the groundwork to blunt liberal anger. Right now, the official Democratic position is that they’ll accept entitlement cuts only in exchange for new revenue—something most Republicans reject. If Sperling mentioned revenue at all, I missed it.
But he dwelt at length—and with some passion—on the need for more stimulus, though he avoided using that dreaded word. He seemed to hint at a budget deal that would trade near-term “investment” (the preferred euphemism for “stimulus’) for long-term entitlement reform. That would be an important shift and one that would certainly upset many Democrats.
Here’s some of what Sperling had to say. He led off with the importance of entitlement cuts. (All emphasis is mine):
“Sometimes here [in Washington] we start to think that the end goal of our public policy is to hit a particular budget or spending or revenue metric—as if those are the goals in and of itself. But it’s important to remember that each of these metrics … are means to larger goals. … Right now, I think there is among a lot of people a consensus as to what the ingredients of a pro-growth fiscal policy are. It would be a fiscal policy that—yes—did give more confidence in the long run that we have a path on entitlement spending and revenues that gives confidence in our long-term fiscal position and that we’re not pushing off unbearable burdens to the next generation. That is very important.”
After Green’s article was posted, White House spokesperson Amy Brundage tried to minimize the talk of cuts in the safety net in the following e-mail:
“Gene was reiterating what our position has been all along: that any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms. And any budget deal needs to have first and foremost the goal of creating good jobs for middle class families and growing the economy—that’s our north star in any budget deal, big or small.”
Uh huh. They know Americans are paying attention to the constant threat of cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We need to stay vigilant and keep pushing back hard.
At Daily Kos, Joan McCarter responded: No, White House advisor Gene Sperling, entitlement cuts are not necessary.
You know what would be a really, really crappy idea? Making cuts to programs that are keeping millions from poverty in order to make a bad economy marginally better. But that’s what President Obama’s top economic advisor—Gene Sperling, director of the White House’s National Economic Council—is telling Democrats they’ll have to swallow….
Yeah, that would upset many Democrats. It would upset a helluva lot of voters, too. Millions and millions of them who have every reason right now to vote against Republicans. It would probably also not go over too well with the next generation who’s going to be far less impacted by the national debt than by having no hope of a secure retirement because a handful of austerity fetishists sold them up the river when they were young.
Sperling is saying that this will have to be done because “we still need to give this recovery more momentum.” Because of course the answer to the recovery is sacrificing some old people. By all means, get their skin in the game. They maybe have an inch or two of skin to spare.
Sign the petition from Senator Bernie Sanders, Daily Kos and an enormous coalition of progressives demanding that Congress and the President oppose any grand bargain which cuts Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
Here’s an article at The Atlantic that Obama and Sperling should read: Raising the Medicare Age: A Popular Idea With Shockingly Few Benefits
Increasing the Medicare age would barely save the government any money, while increasing healthcare spending overall by keeping seniors in less-efficient private insurance (if they even have it). Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the policy is fine.
It may seem obvious that raising the Medicare age should save money. After all, the projected rise of the long-term debt is mostly about the projected rise of federal health-care spending. If we raise the Medicare age, Washington can wait longer to pay for seniors’ health care, which means they’ll pay less, overall.
Any time there’s any chance for any kind of budget bargain, “grand” or otherwise, the discussion inside the Beltway inevitably turns to hiking the Medicare age. (Call it Peterson’s Law: As a fiscal debate grows longer, the probability of a CEO proposing a higher Social Security and Medicare age approaches one). Right on cue, this got trial-ballooned during the debt ceiling talks in 2011, and then again during the fiscal cliff talks in 2012. Professional deficit hawks think of raising the Medicare age as a sign of seriousness. It’s not so much about the money it saves as the message it supposedly sends markets: that the debt will be fixed.
Except it’s all a pack of lies. Read all about it at the link.
It’s been a year since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and caused so much havoc that it was “the second-costliest hurricane in United States history.” In July 2013, it came out that four charities had been holding back millions in donations that were collected specifically for Sandy relief. Now NY is forcing them to cough up some of the money. From the NY Daily News:
Four charities that had been under fire for sitting on millions of dollars of Hurricane Sandy relief funds have agreed to pony up $10 million to aid victims of the storm.
The charities — including the American Red Cross and a fund created by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees — reached an agreement with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The deal came after revelations in July that 40% of the $575 million in Sandy aid collected by 90 charities had been disbursed within six months of the storm.
“We have been dogged about making sure that when they raise money and tell the world they are going to spend it on Sandy recovery, they in fact spend it on Sandy recovery,” Schneiderman said during an appearance Thursday in hard-hit Long Beach, L.I.
Brees’ charity had seriously dropped the ball, having received a single $300,000 donation but only allocating $75,000 of it, officials said.
Under the agreement with Schneiderman, the Brees Dream Foundation agreed to disperse the remaining $225,000 by October 2014, the second anniversary of the storm.
In less serious news–it IS Saturday after all, Gawker has learned that Fox News’ Shepard Smith began carrying on an office romance with a young producer at Fox, Giovanni “Gio” Graziano. Apparently, the two have been seen together all over Manhattan.
Gawker has learned that Smith is dating a 26-year-old Penn State grad and Fox Business producer named Giovanni “Gio” Graziano. According to multiple sources with knowledge of their relationship, the couple met sometime after Graziano started working at Fox Report in October 2011 as a production assistant. He’s the man with whom Smith frequents Bathtub Gin.
“Yes, that’s Shepard’s boyfriend,” Katya Minskova, the Bathtub Gin waitress Smith berated in March, confirmed to Gawker when shown a photo of Graziano. Another source who had seen them together at the Chelsea speakeasy confirmed Graziano’s identity as well. Both sources say they saw Graziano and Smith together at the bar on multiple occasions, and that they appeared to be romantically involved.
While Smith and Graziano’s boss Roger Ailes, a notorious homophobe, was apparently kept in the dark about the relationship—“higher ups had no idea,” a source close to Graziano said—the pair doesn’t appear to have gone to great lengths to keep the workplace romance from their co-workers.
Shep Smith arranged for Graziano to be transferred to Fox Business a year ago, so the two wouldn’t be directly working together. Now it’s not clear if Graziano is even working at Fox anymore.
Graziano’s current status at Fox is unclear. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he is currently employed at Fox Business (after three years as a production assistant at Fox News, including one year at Smith’s show). But the source close to Graziano claimed that he abruptly left Fox in mid-July. Graziano “dropped off the planet, cut off all his friends, to be with Shep,” the source said. “His former work friends are clueless about his current whereabouts.”
Very interesting . . .
I noticed this story at The Atlantic a few days ago, and saved it for today. Go to the link to check out this GIF of most popular baby girl names from 1960 to the present, based on data compiled by the Social Security Administration. Rebecca Rosen writes:
My friend Judy used to always say that whenever she met another Judy, she knew exactly how old that Judy was—to the day.
Now that level of precision might be a bit of a stretch, but, as the above map wonderfully shows, there’s good reason for that line of thinking. The most popular baby girl names in the United States are flashes in the pan—each one appearing on the map briefly, before being swept out by an up-and-comer.
The map was built in Adobe Illustrator by Deadspin‘s Reuben Fischer-Baum using data from the Social Security Administration. “Color palette,” Fischer-Baum wrote to me over email, “has to be credited to Stephen Few, from his excellent data viz book Show Me The Numbers.” Earlier drafts gave each name a unique color, he says, but in the end “it was a lot cleaner and more interesting to limit the palette to just the most popular name for any given year, and put the rest in grayscale so you could see how the different ‘eras’ of top names progressed.”
Over at Jezebel, Fischer-Baum describes the picture that emerges:
Baby naming generally follows a consistent cycle: A name springs up in some region of the U.S.—”Ashley” in the South, “Emily” in the Northeast—sweeps over the country, and falls out of favor nearly as quickly. The big exception to these baby booms and busts is “Jennifer”, which absolutely dominates America for a decade-and-a-half. If you’re named Jennifer and you were born between 1970 and 1984, don’t worry! I’m sure you have a totally cool, unique middle name.
Finally, here’s a really scary story for you from Talk to Action: A Majority of Americans 18-29 Years Old Now Believe in Demon Possession, Shows Survey.
Are Americans becoming less religious? While church affiliation is probably declining, don’t expect the atheist revolution anytime soon:
Over one half (63 percent, to be exact) of young Americans 18-29 years old now believe in the notion that invisible, non-corporeal entities called “demons” can take partial or total control of human beings, revealed an October 2012Public Policy Polling survey that also showed this belief isn’t declining among the American population generally; it’s growing.
Please read the whole creepy article at the link. It will scare you silly!
Those are my recommended reads for today. Please let us know what stories you’re following today by posting the links in the comment thread.
Obama Suggests He’ll Include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid Cuts in 2014 Budget Due in AprilPosted: March 29, 2013 | |
The White House is strongly considering including limits on entitlement benefits in its fiscal 2014 budget—a proposal it first offered Republicans in December. The move would be aimed in part at keeping alive bipartisan talks on a major budget deal.
Such a proposal could include steps that make many Democrats queasy, such as reductions in future Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments, but also items resisted by Republicans, such as higher taxes through limits on tax breaks, people close to the White House said.
These measures would come as President Barack Obama continues his courtship of the Senate GOP in an effort to thaw tax-and-spending talks. The White House’s delayed annual budget is scheduled to be released April 10, the same day Mr. Obama plans to dine with a group of Senate Republicans to discuss the budget and other issues….
People close to the White House believe a proposal to slow the growth rate of such benefits would use a variant of the Consumer Price Index to measure inflation. The new inflation indicator would cut overall spending by $130 billion, according to White House projections, and raise $100 billion in tax revenue by slowing the growth of tax brackets. The White House earlier called for an additional $800 billion or so in cuts on top of those resulting from the inflation adjustments.
“We and all of the groups engaged on this are starting to feel it may well be in the budget,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president at AARP, an advocacy group for seniors that opposes such changes.
According to the WSJ article, the White House would “insist” that if cuts to safety net programs are included, the entire budget package would have to get an up or down vote. I’m not sure how they would enforce that.
From Susie’s post at Crooks and Liars:
Get your dialing fingers ready. There’s a reason they let this story out on Good Friday, they’re counting on you not noticing or being too busy to do anything about it. The White House switchboard is 202-456-1414, the comments line is 202-456-1111 (be prepared to hold) or you can email here.
Gene Sperling: “A mix of entitlements and revenues was part of the DNA” of the Sequester “from the start.”Posted: February 28, 2013 | |
From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013
I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.
But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)
I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.
My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.
Really? Does anyone recall President Obama saying that at the time the sequester was proposed and voted on in 2011? Did President Obama discuss these plans for entitlement cuts during his campaign for re-election? I’ve always suspected he did plan cuts in Social Security, Medicare, but when did he publicly state this? I’ve done a somewhat cursory search, but I can’t find anything.
There is no mention of these agreed-upon cuts in the Wikipedia entry on the Budget Control Act of 2011. There no mention of “entitlement” cuts in this extensive article at The Bipartisan Policy Center. This analysis (pdf) notes that the Supercommittee was authorized to cut Social Security:
The “Super Committee” deficit reduction plan: BCA also creates a new, special joint committee of Congress charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction to avoid any potential sequestration. This “Super Committee” can cut spending (including Social Security and Medicare), raise revenue, or propose a combination of both. If the committee cannot agree on a plan, or Congress fails to approve it, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion will be triggered through sequestration. To assist the Super Committee with its task, Congress also provided for an accelerated review of the Super Committee recommendations, provided that the Super Committee followed specific timelines, as outlined in the text.
But I think it was generally assumed that the Super Committee would not be able to agree on anything, and if they did that the Senate at least would not vote for Social Security cuts.
So now the truth has come out. Certainly no one from the White House has come rushing out to deny that cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are what is supposed to balance any new revenue. A few other bloggers have written about this.
Digby is always alert for any mentions of Obama’s seeming obsession with cutting Social Security, and she didn’t miss this one.
I don’t know that anyone’s ever admitted that in public before or that the president was completely, shall we say, honest when he ran for his second term about that specific definition of “a balanced approach”. I haven’t heard anyone say publicly that the sequester “deal” as far as the White House was concerned was to cut “entitlements” in exchange for new revenues. I wonder how many members of congress were aware of this “deal” when they voted for the sequester? The public certainly wasn’t.
I wish I could understand why it is so important to Barack Obama to cut these vital programs before he leaves office. It seems to be his obsession. But there you have it. It’s not just in the DNA of the sequester, it seems to be in the DNA of this White House.
In this sense, it seems that Sperling and Woodward–and by extension Obama–do “see eye to eye.”
At FDL, John Walker gets right to the point in his headline: Sperling: Obama Wanted Sequester to Force Democrats to Accept Entitlement Cuts.
The way Obama has handled basically every manufactured crisis from the debt ceiling, to the Bush tax cuts expiration, to the sequester has been about trying to force both Democrats and Republicans to embrace his version of a “grand bargain.” While it is clear this has been the driving force behind Obama’s decisions, if you pay close attention to his actions is is rare than an administration official will directly admit this. This is actually what I think it most interesting about the recently leaked email exchange between Bob Woodward and Gene Sperling up on Politico…..
Obama wants to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Obama also wants to raise taxes, but he only wants to do these unpopular things if he can get bipartisan cover to destroy basic democratic accountability. If everyone is to blame than no one is to blame.
What has sometimes been viewed as incompetence on the part of Obama during negotiations is actually Obama trying to weaken Democrats’ hand to “force” them to accept entitlement cuts while being able to blame it on the mean Republicans.
That is why even now Obama isn’t calling for the sequester to be simply repealed or delayed. Obama still wants to use this manufactured crisis to force congressional Democrats to betray their base by adopting Social Security cuts and get Republicans to accept revenue increases.
Finally, thanks to JJ for sending me the link to this piece by Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect: Dear White House, You’ll Regret This.
[Gene Sperling’s] e-mail is pure confirmation that Obama’s position, dating back to at least 2011, has been to try to trade cuts in Social Security and Medicare for new revenues. It confirms that Sperling and his boss have been channeling the likes of Robert Rubin, Pete Peterson, the corporate-sponsored Fix the Debt campaign, et al., who have been promoting exactly this grand bargain. Sperling confirms that the sequester was designed to force exactly such a dismal deal.
But even worse, writes Kuttner, is what the e-mail demonstrations about Sperling’s–and Obama’s–pathetic negotiating skills.
The Woodward-Sperling exchange is far more interesting for what it reveals about Sperling/Obama’s propensity for giving ground on core issues and getting almost nothing in return. I supposed we should be grateful that Sperling is only wrecking the economy, the Democrats, Social Security, and Medicare—and not negotiating nukes with the Ayatollah.
I’ve said ever since I read The Audacity of Hope back in 2007 that Obama wanted to cut Social Security. Actually, he made it clear in the book that he wanted to privatize it, but he must have realized that wasn’t going to happen. It’s time for those of us who care about these issues to start screaming bloody murder again. We need to get on this ASAP. So tell your friends and call your Congress critters.
The floor is open for discussion.