Senate Budget 111009The Senate Budget Committee heard testimony today on Chairman Kent Conrad and ranking member Senator Judd Gregg’s plans to create an entitlement commission.  This group would be tasked (among other things) to “renegotiate our social contract”, as David Walker testified, under a fast-tracked, no amendments, up-or-down vote process designed to minimize Congress’ role in making these vital decisions.  Or as some might argue, to provide political cover for those decisions.  We remain steadfastly opposed to Congress subcontracting it’s responsibilities to a mere 15 member, appointed body which would be charged with addressing issues such as Social Security, Medicare, the tax code; policies that touch the lives of virtually every American.  Sure, it’s a tough job but this is what we’ve elected them, all of them, to do--isn’t it?  We sent a letter to Congress today to remind them that Social Security did not create our current federal debt and deficit crisis: 
“We appreciate the concerns of legislators who are looking for a means of reducing the federal deficit and slowing the growth in the debt. However, we have significant concerns about any process – including the Conrad-Gregg Commission – that would disenfranchise American voters and subject Social Security beneficiaries to harmful cuts in benefits. As supporters of Social Security, we are surprised to see the federal deficit and the federal debt cited as the reason a commission needs to be established to make cuts in Social Security. The truth is that neither the $1.4 trillion deficit nor the nearly $12 trillion debt has anything to do with Social Security benefits.    For nearly three decades, Social Security has taken in more revenue each year than it has paid out in benefits. These excess funds have been invested in special issue U.S. government securities. Thus, Social Security has effectively been loaning its excess funds to the federal government to spend on other programs. Rather than increasing the federal deficit, Social Security’s annual surpluses have actually been covering up the true size of the deficit in the general fund.”
In spite of all the talk in today’s Senate hearing about the need for a fair and balanced approach it’s interesting to note that every one of the 10 witnesses invited to testify supports the creation of a commission. Not a single witness opposed to the commission idea was even invited. It’s hard to have much faith in a process that ignores the opposing viewpoint from the get-go.  We’ve seen these so-called “bi-partisan” commissions before; stacked with members who share the same view, regardless of their party affiliation. Remember President Bush’s bi-partisan Social Security Commission, filled with private account advocates, which not surprisingly came up with three privatization plans?  There are many respected policy analysts who join us in opposing this idea.  Seven staff members of the 1983 National Commission on Social Security Reform (also known as the Greenspan Commission) provided their argument against current commission proposals in a statement to the Senate Budget committee.  
“An expedited procedure, which limits debate and prohibits all amendments, would be unprecedented: Since its enactment in 1935, Social Security legislation has always had the benefit of (1) full hearings before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee; (2) executive sessions which provided all members the opportunity to offer amendments; (3) unlimited debate and opportunity for amendments in the Senate; and (4) debate and amendment in the House of Representatives, consistent with its rules.  This was the procedure that was followed in the enactment of the Social Security Amendments of 1983, which eliminated the then-projected Social Security deficit." “Members have been elected to apply their principles and preferences to hard decisions; a commission with responsibility over Social Security, where its recommendations are considered under expedited procedures with no power to amend, improperly shifts responsibility and shields members from accountability.” 
While all of this probably just reads like more inside-the-beltway wrangling, its implications are huge for millions of American retirees already suffering from an economy that has devastated their savings, home values and retirement security.  Commission proponents, like the billion dollar Pete Peterson foundation, are pushing for quick enactment of a Commission proposal as soon as this winter.