Tag Archives: Jackie Calmes

$100 Billion Here And $100 Billion There, Here A $100 Billion, There A $100 Billion, Everywhere A $100 Billion

Jackie Calmes at NYT:

Many people knowledgeable about the federal budget said House Republicans could not keep their campaign promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending in a single year. Now it appears that Republicans agree.

As they prepare to take power on Wednesday, Republican leaders are scaling back that number by as much as half, aides say, because the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, will be nearly half over before spending cuts could become law.

While House Republicans were never expected to succeed in enacting cuts of that scale, given opposition in the Senate from the Democratic majority and some Republicans, and from President Obama, a House vote would put potentially vulnerable Republican lawmakers on record supporting deep reductions of up to 30 percent in education, research, law enforcement, transportation and more.

Now aides say that the $100 billion figure was hypothetical, and that the objective is to get annual spending for programs other than those for the military, veterans and domestic security back to the levels of 2008, before Democrats approved stimulus spending to end the recession.

Yet “A Pledge to America,” the manifesto House Republicans published last September, included the promise, “We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone.”

Allah Pundit:

Their excuse will be that the fiscal year, which began on October 1, will already be almost half over by the time the budgetary resolution that was passed during the lame duck runs out in March. That means they’ll only have seven months to work with this fiscal year; when they said they’d cut $100 billion, they meant the first full fiscal year that they’re in charge. But wait, you say! Shouldn’t it be fairly easy to find $100 billion to cut in an annual budget that exceeds $3.5 trillion? Well, yes — except that the GOP’s limiting itself to cutting discretionary spending (Social Security and Medicare are, as ever, completely off-limits) and even within discretionary spending they refuse to touch “security” budgets, i.e. Defense and Homeland Security. That leaves just $500 billion or so for this year to play with, and since, as Rich Lowry noted earlier at the Corner, a good chunk of that will already have been spent by the time the continuing resolution expires in the spring, they’d have to make huge cuts to what’s left in order to get to $100 billion in savings overall.

The point to ponder here, I think, is that even the highly touted $100 billion figure is just a small fraction of last year’s deficit. Even with a tea-party Congress, even with a gigantic pool of expenditures to cut from, political reality is such that not only can’t they reach that modest, largely symbolic target in seven months, they’ll actually have to move heaven and earth during the next full fiscal year to get Obama and the Senate Democrats to agree to it. This is what we’ve been reduced to — the suspense of wondering whether the new Republican majority can achieve cuts that will barely make a dent in our annual budget shortfall. Hugely depressing.

Ross Douthat:

Hugely depressing, but hopefully hugely instructive as well. The pledge to cut $100 billion was always more of a symbolic sop to the Tea Parties than a real step toward fiscal discipline. The question for the new Republican majority has always been whether it will make any serious progress on entitlement reform and tax reform, not whether it will find inevitably-marginal ways to trim discretionary spending. You can’t have fiscal responsibility if you keep entitlements, tax expenditures and defense spending off the table, and the fact that these realities have been exposed in the very first week of G.O.P. control, thanks to the peculiarities of the fiscal calendar, is probably good news for fiscal conservatism. The sooner we get certain fond illusions out of the way, the better.

Peter Suderman at Reason:

I’m somewhat sympathetic to the political reality of the situation; $100 billion in cuts would have been a tall order. But the excuses given here seem designed to test one’s sympathy. Are all figures attached to campaign promises now potentially hypothetical? Were Republicans not aware of the timing of the fiscal year when making the $100 billion promise? At least the feeling isn’t universal: GOP Senator-elect Rand Paul has already responded to the article by saying that $50 billion in cuts isn’t enough.

Robert Stacy McCain:

I’m not sure that anyone will be outraged over this. The important thing is for Congress to move in the right direction and stop the kind of out-of-control deficit spending by which Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats increased the national debt by $5.2 trillion in four years.Excerpts from Speaker Boehner’s opening speech today:

“The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.”

That’s the written text, which doesn’t include the part where he gets all choked up and starts crying. (It’s OK, Mr. Speaker, we like the crying.) Boehner’s speech — crying and all — will be livestreamed.

Steve Benen:

Oh, I see. Republican pledges are “hypothetical” promises. The Pledge to America must have included asterisks and disclaimers in font so small, the country missed the caveats.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, said, “I think they woke up to the reality that this will have a direct negative impact on people’s lives…. You know, it’s easy to talk about these things in the abstract. It’s another thing when you start taking away people’s college loans and Pell Grants or cutting early education programs.”

To be sure, I’m delighted Republicans aren’t actually going to pursue this indefensible goal. When political leaders start breaking high-profile promises right out of the gate, it’s generally not a positive development, but in this case, we’re all better off with GOP leaders having changed their minds.

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that Republicans never should have made this promise to begin with, and shouldn’t have put themselves in a position in which they’re breaking their own pledge immediately after taking office.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

The basic situation is that you have a tiny handful of principled conservatives who genuinely want to cut the size of actual government programs. But that accounts for a tiny slice of the general opposition to government programs, which is rooted in misperceptions about what government spends money on alongside strong support for the programs that actually exist. Government programs are popular. Some of them serve little purpose (think farm subsidies) but those generally exist precisely because they have powerful constituencies.

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Beware The Zombie Curmudgeon Who Talks Of Tits

Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post:

Alan Simpson believes that Social Security is “like a milk cow with 310 million tits,” according to an email he sent to the executive director of National Older Women’s League Tuesday morning. Simpson co-chairs the deficit commission, which is considering various proposals to cut Social Security benefits.

Simpson’s email, which OWL chief Ashley Carson released publicly, (PDF) was sent in response to an April blog post Carson wrote for the Huffington Post. Carson criticized Simpson for repeatedly describing his Social Security opponents as “Pink Panthers,” arguing that the description had sexist connotations.

His email is peppered with exclamation points and condescension. At one point he urged Carson to read a certain graph, “which I hope you are able to discern if you are any good at reading graphs.”

Simpson concludes by implying that leading a major organization dedicated to the interests of middle-aged and elderly women is not “honest work.”

“If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors, let me know,” he writes. “And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ’em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!”

It’s unclear from Simpson’s email if he means Social Security is the milk cow or if he’s referring to America in general. A Simpson assistant responded to a HuffPost email saying that Simpson was traveling and unable to comment immediately. OWL is now circulating a petition calling on the former Republican Senator from Wyoming to resign.

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Here’s the resignation call from Eric Kingston, co-director of Social Security Works:
“Alan Simpson’s comments are offensive and sexist and clearly demonstrate that he is unfit to continue to lead the President’s Fiscal Commission. His comments not only show his true view of women and older Americans but also his disdain for the very program he claims he is trying to protect – Social Security. Social Security Works is demanding that he resign immediately. If he will not, the President must fire him. Alan Simpson has no business deciding the fate of hundreds of millions of Americans’ retirement future.  He should have no power over Social Security, which provides vital economic support to millions of children and people with disabilities, as well as seniors and  their families.”

Andrew Biggs at The American Enterprise Institute:

It’s perhaps a sign of the times that you can’t make an analogy—albeit an analogy I can’t say I completely understand—without being called sexist. Eric Kingson of the left-leaning Social Security Works promptly obliged, coupled with a call to resign.

Personally I think Simpson’s comment was virulently anti-cow—everyone knows that cows have only four tits. Or teats. Whatever. That said, the guy’s from Wyoming so my guess is a cow that got only a little harsh language thinks it got off easy.

Finally, I think that fights like this are—get ready!—an udder waste of time. Simpson is silly to provide an opening like this; where’s the staff when you need them? And Kingson is immature to follow up with feigned outrage. If these folks truly get upset about a slightly strange cow analogy then they’re worse off than I thought.

But that’s where things stand today.

Paul Krugman:

I always thought that the deficit commission was a bad idea; it has only looked worse over time, as the buzz is that Democrats are caving in to Republicans, leaning ever further toward an all-cuts, no taxes solution, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.

I’ve also had my eye on Alan Simpson, the supposedly grown-up Republican co-chair, who has been talking nonsense about Social Security from the get-go.

At this point, though, Obama is on the spot: he has to fire Simpson, or turn the whole thing into a combination of farce and tragedy — the farce being the nature of the co-chair, the tragedy being that Democrats are so afraid of Republicans that nothing, absolutely nothing, will get them sanctioned.

When you have a commission dedicated to the common good, and the co-chair dismisses Social Security as a “milk cow with 310 million tits,” you either have to get rid of him or admit that you’re completely, um, cowed by the right wing, that IOKIYAR rules completely.

And no, an apology won’t suffice. Simpson was completely in character here; it was perfectly consistent with everything else he’s said, and with his previous behavior. He has to go.

Dean Baker at Hufffington Post:

I was also a recipient of one of Simpson’s tirades. As was the case with the note he sent to Carson, Simpson attached a presentation prepared for the commission by Social Security’s chief actuary. Simpson implied that this presentation had some especially eye-opening information that would lead Carson and myself to give up our wrong-headed views on Social Security.

While I opened the presentation with great expectations, I quickly discovered there was nothing in the presentation that would not already be known to anyone familiar with the annual Social Security trustees’ report. The presentation showed a program that is currently in solid financial shape, but somewhere in the next three decades will face a shortfall due to an upward redistribution of wage income, increasing life expectancy, and slow growth in the size of the workforce. The projected shortfall is not larger than what the program has faced at prior points in its history, most notably in 1982 when the Greenspan Commission was established to restore the program’s solvency.

It was disturbing to see that Simpson seemed surprised by what should have been old hat to anyone familiar with the policy debate on Social Security. After all, he had been a leading participant in these debates in his years in the Senate.

Simpson’s public remarks also seem to show very little knowledge of the financial situation of the elderly or near elderly. He has repeatedly made references to retirees driving up to their gated communities in their Lexuses. While this description may apply to Simpson’s friends, it applies to very few other retirees, the vast majority of whom rely on Social Security for the bulk of their income. Cutting the benefits of the small group of genuinely affluent elderly would make almost no difference in the finances of the program.

Furthermore, the baby-boom generation that is nearing retirement has seen most of its savings destroyed by the collapse of the housing bubble that both wiped out their housing equity and took a big chunk of the limited money they were able to put aside in their 401(k)s. Simpson shows no understanding of this fact as he prepares to cut benefits for near retirees.

He also doesn’t seem to have a clue as to the type of work that most older people are doing. While it is possible for senators to continue in their jobs late in life, nearly half of older workers have jobs that are either physically demanding or require they work in difficult conditions. Simpson seems totally clueless on this point when he considers proposals to raise the retirement age.

ECHIDNE of the snakes:

I find the e-mail insulting, rude, contemptuous and clearly one written by an anti-feminist. The whole tone of it is one of belittling the recipient whose work is not regarded as honest and whose ability to read graphs is doubted. Is that sexist enough for you?

The comment itself, about that wonder cow with 310 million tits, doesn’t sound sexist to me unless something I don’t get is hidden in the actual numbers? Is it the term “tits” that people view as sexist? I spend too much time in the bottom waters of the Internet to interpret tits that way. Men have them, too, and sometimes even moobs.

Jackie Calmes at NYT:

Alan K. Simpson, the Republican co-chairman of President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission, removed his “size 15 feet” from his mouth to apologize to a critic on Wednesday for a stinging letter in which he compared Social Security to “a milk cow with 310 million tits.”

The apology came as some liberal groups and members of Congress who oppose any changes to Social Security benefits called on Mr. Obama to fire Mr. Simpson, a former senator from Wyoming long known for his irreverent and often biting remarks.

But at the White House, Jennifer Psaki, the deputy communications director, said, “Alan Simpson has apologized and while we regret and do not condone his comments, we accept his apology and he will continue to serve.”

[…]

Mr. Simpson apologized in a letter to Ms. Carson, adding: “Over the last 40 years, I have had my size 15 feet in my mouth a time or two. To quote my old friend and colleague, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, when I make a mistake, ‘It’s a doozy!’ ’’

EARLIER: Beware The Zombie Curmudgeon Who Talks Of Lesser People

UPDATE: Bill Scher and Nicole Kurokawa at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Glenn Greenwald

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Filed under Entitlements, Political Figures