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The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

"Social Security is not the trouble; it's just the target"

Social Security is likely to be the main target of the newly created National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The Commission is charged with improving the nation's fiscal position for both the short-term and the long-term. The new co-chairs of the Commission have announced their intent to aim squarely at Social Security and Medicare.

The co-chairs are former Republican Senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. In an interview on the cable news station CNBC, Co-Chair Alan Simpson noted that the Commission would be going after "the big three - Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security."

Likewise Co-Chair Erskine Bowles made it clear that Social Security topped his list for slashing benefits. "We're going to mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security because if you take those off the table, you can't get there," Bowles said in a speech to North Carolina bankers.

Why do these fiscal hawks want to "mess" with Social Security? Well, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke didn't hesitate to reveal their real reason for wanting to cut Social Security benefits. Citing bank robber Willie Sutton's famous remark about why he stole from banks, Bernanke said Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be cut because "that's where the money is." The hawks in charge of the new fiscal commission intend to cut Social Security benefits, not to strengthen Social Security, but to make the nation's fiscal situation look better.

American's want fiscal sanity returned to Washington , but they know that Social Security is not responsible for our budget deficit. The real reason for the budget imbalance is billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy, a decade of borrow and spend policies and a recession driven by the excesses of Wall Street.

Social Security has not contributed one dime to our nation's deficit. The Social Security Trust Fund was built up in preparation for the baby boomers' retirement. In fact, the annual surpluses in Social Security have been used for years to help balance the federal budget.

Today Social Security is owed $2.6 trillion previously loaned to the federal government to cover the cost of other programs. But budget hawks are arguing that there is not enough money to pay back this loan to Social Security, so their answer is to cut Social Security benefits instead.

Working Americans of all ages have contributed money to Social Security and that money belongs to them, not the government. That money is dedicated to paying promised benefits. Social Security should not be used as a piggy bank to pay for bad fiscal decisions of the past.

Structure of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

The Commission is made up of 18 members. Of those members, six are appointed by the President - with no more than four from the same political party; six are appointed from the U.S. Senate - three by the Majority Leader and three by the Minority Leader; and six are appointed from the U.S House of Representatives - three by the Speaker of the House and three by the Minority Leader.

The Commission was charged with making recommendations to (1) reduce annual deficits to 3% of the national economy by 2015 and (2) meaningfully improve the long-range fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth in entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.

The Commission is required to report its recommendations no later than December 1, 2010. The final report of the Commission must be approved by at least 14 of the Commission's 18 members.

If a final report is adopted by the Commission, Senate Majority Leader Reid has agreed to give the recommendations an up-or-down vote in the Senate by the end of 2010. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has agreed that, if the Senate passes the recommendations, the House will then vote on them.

Presidential Appointments: The President appointed former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson as co-chairs of the Commission. He also appointed to the panel: Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union; Dave Cote, CEO of Honeywell; Alice Rivlin, former Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve and former Director of the Congressional Budget Office; and Ann Fudge, former CEO of Young and Rubican Brands.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Appointments: Richard J. Durbin of Illinois; Max Baucus of Montana; and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Appointments: Tom Coburn of Oklahoma; Judd Gregg of New Hampshire; and Michael Crapo of Idaho.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's Appointments: John Spratt, Jr. of South Caroline; Xavier Becerra of California; and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

House Minority Leader John Boehner's Appointments: Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; Dave Camp of Michigan; and Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Government Relations and Policy, April 2010


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