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Varied responses to deficit commission tea leaves

November 11, 2010 - Mike Maneval
Earlier this week two members of the deficit commission set up by President Barack Obama shared some thoughts influencing their ideas as the commission works on its report. The two members, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff for the Clinton administration, listed proposals for eliminating certain tax credits, raising the age of eligibility for Social Security, and capping federal discretionary spending. Reactions have been mixed.

Kevin Drum, writing for the website of Mother Jones magazine, suggests the news is unimportant and unserious. Unimportant because it represents the thoughts of only two members of the deficit commission and only in a preliminary sense. Unserious, Drum argues, because according to projections of the Congressional Budget Office, discretionary spending and Social Security will have far less impact on the deficit than Medicare and Medicaid.

Economist Dean Baker, wiriting for, says the proposal ignores the economic realities of high unemployment and supply and demand. At the progressive site, Baker observes their are three distinct deficit commissions preparing reports and sharply notes: "These three commissions all have (something) in common: not one member of these commissions warned of the catastrophe that would be created by the collapse of the housing bubble." Including Bowles and Simpson.

For another perspective, the conservative website reports that former Republican Senator and radio pundit Fred Thompson and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, while quibbling with specifics, are praising the foray as "brave" in its willingness to approach entitlement reform. However, the reports says, a suggested cap on government spending at 21 percent of gross domestic product drew ire from fellow radio pundit Rush Limbaugh as too high.

Greg Mankiw, Harvard economics professor and former chairman of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, blogs that he supports - and has long supported - ideas contained in the Simpson-Bowles list, including raising the retirement age and a higher gasoline tax. And despite the certainty of Drum and Baker that the proposals from Bowles and Simpson impractically target Social Security, Thomas Lifson at says the proposals treat Social Security "gently" and instead overcut defense spending.


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