Pete Peterson’s Anti-Entitlement Juggernaut

When Obama’s new deficit commission gets going, it intends to be “partnering“–in the words of executive director Bruce Reed –with outside groups. Among them will be the foundation run by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson, who on Wednesday will upstage the president with his own fiscal summit in Washington. Obama insists he is keeping an open mind about how to deal with the deficit and national debt–but as I’ve written before, he’s already stacked his own commission with people who lean heavily toward one particular solution: cutting entitlements. And now he is working hand-in-glove with a wealthy private organization whose central purpose is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Talk about foregone conclusions. 

Pete Peterson: Beating a Dead Horse

Peterson, according to Forbes, was the 149th richest man in America last year, with $2.8 billion in assets. During his long career he has been, among other things, CEO of Bell & Howell,  head of Lehman Brothers, a co-founder of the Blackstone Group, and head of the Council on  Foreign Relations. He was Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce, and in 1994 served on a Clinton bipartisan commission on entitlements and tax reform. He launched his own Peter G. Peterson Foundation with a grant of $1 billion.  

A fiscal conservative, Peterson has long been issuing dire warnings about the the nation’s skyrocketing debt. The key cause of the problem, in his analysis, is that entitlement programs–primarily Social Security and Medicare, but Medicaid as well–are out of control; the only solution is to cut them. Peterson is the self-appointed head of what some people have begun to call the “granny bashers,” who argue that greedy geezers are ruining the lives of younger generations with their unconscionable demands for basic healthcare and a hedge against destitution. (Peterson himself is in his eighties–but of course he’s too rich to worry about such things.)  

The granny bashers’ real agenda, of course, is to cut the social safety net programs that they have long abhorred–but they have gained far more ground with their intergenerational inequity claims than they ever would with a straight-out attack on Social Security and Medicare. The majority of the Washington punditry seem to have fallen for it–and so too, apparently, has the White House. A year ago in Newsweek, Peterson wrote: 

For the first time in my memory, the majority of the American people join me in believing that, on our current course, our children will not do as well as we have. For years, I have been saying that the American government, and America itself, has to change its spending and borrowing policies: the tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlements and promises, the dangerous dependence on foreign capital, our pitiful level of savings, the metastasizing health-care costs, our energy gluttony. These structural deficits are unsustainable. Herb Stein, who served alongside me in the Nixon White House as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, once drily observed, “If your horse dies, I suggest you dismount.” And yet, we keep trying to ride this horse. 

In June, according to the Washington Post,  Obama’s deficit commission will be participating in a 20-city electronic town hall meeting, put together by an organization called America Speaks. It is financed by Peterson, along with the MacArthur Foundation and Kellogg Foundation. This is a truly unusual event because it marks the first time a presidential commission’s activities are financed by a private group that has long been lobbying the government on the very subjects the commission is supposed to “study.” 

The Peterson summit is crammed with luminaries in finance and government. First there’s the keynoter, Bill Clinton. Then there’s Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman widely credited with getting us into our current economic mess, and Paul Volcker, his conservative predecessor at the Fed. Robert Rubin, Clinton’s secretary of the Treasury, and another pillar of the current economic debacle, will speak. So will Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, a leading GOP guru, who among other things wants to replace Medicare with a system of vouchers and tax breaks. Judd Gregg, the senior and probably most important conservative senator when it comes to finance, will be featured as well; he is a keen  proponent of Peterson’s entitlement cuts. 

The heavy hitters are all to be interviewed by big names in mainstream media: ABC’s George Stephanopolous will question his old boss Clinton; Leslie Stahl will speak with presidential commission co-chair Erskine Bowles, one of Clinton’s a White House chiefs of staff. Ranked below the big guys are a slew of lesser lights including some liberals like Lawrence Mischel of the Economic Policy Institute, Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, John Podesta of the Center for American Progress (and another former Clinton chief of staff), and former Congressional Budget Office head Alice Rivlin. 

All-in-all, it seems to be dominated by Clinton-era officials, who oversaw much of the Wall Street deregulation that nearly drove the country broke. These are the people who will now try to make up the losses on the backs of the poor and the old by rewriting the hard-won entitlement programs created during the New Deal and the War on Poverty. 

Meanwhile Obama–who seems to have learned nothing about strategy from the health care wars–will not say what he thinks about any of it. Instead, he prefers to sit on the sidelines and see what these people come up with–as if that horse wasn’t already out of the barn.

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10 responses to “Pete Peterson’s Anti-Entitlement Juggernaut

  1. The fix may be in, but what is the economic counter-argument. I only hear spend, spend. A reasoned response, not a political rant from the left is what I crave so the Peterson group (Clintonites included ) does offer the only and inevitable “solution”, re-enforcing the the economic class structure in the United States.
    Mike M.

  2. Pingback: If We Truly Care About America’s Future We’ll Cut Social Security…Right? | Entitled to Know

  3. Donna L. Wagner

    Entitlement programs are the programs that we need to improve ; not cut. With millions of Americans out of work, more without adequate access to health care and even more slipping into late life lacking the means necessary to fully participate in the economy, America faces a dire future. The only way to improve the quality of life in America is to improve the quality of life of the working men and women and those who can no longer work. The Commission’s membership has, for the most part, already had a chance to be in charge and sadly, they diminished our future significantly by their poor decision-making. It’s disappointing to see the current administration engaging in the same old dialogue that has been taking the country no where.

  4. Donald L. Anderson

    We have dropped a TRILLION dollars in the illegal, immoral, predatory Iraqi war.

    Drop that war and there is money for SS, Medicare, and other items.

    Why is this considered?

  5. Dennis Farley

    The Clinton administration was the most destructive thing to this country that ever happened. NAFTA, the destruction of banking regulations, the whole Yugoslavian debacle, now he still emerges to haunt us with his cronies attacking the remaining social benefits that were wisely drafted into law during the past seventy years. I hope I live long enough to see him and his kind identified as the scum that they all are.

  6. Look back at Obama’s 2008 campaign. What do you see?

    Big piles of wall street money. Much of it coming in early when he needed credibility to challenge Hillary. Without Wall Street support, Obama is just another dwarf on the stage about whom the ‘conventional wisdom’ was that he was getting his name out for a 2012 run.

    Very early in the race, months before the first primary, Obama was making noises about privatizing social security. This went over like a lead balloon among the leftist he needed to defeat Hillary, so he dropped it fast. But that was the wall street money talking.

    So, no surprise at all that he’s now figuring out how to give our social security money to wall street? No surprise at all that he’s picked a bunch of wall street people to put the deal together.

    To me, the surprise was that 60,000,000 Democrats went to the polls and voted for Wall Street’s man in the last elections.

    Please stop doing that. Don’t vote for wall street’s candidates. You’re killing us.

    PS … before long, you’ll realize the Obama years are worse than the Clinton years.

  7. Pingback: The Peterson Foundation’s Retirement Plan: Debtors Prisons « Unsilent Generation

  8. Pingback: Why do elected leaders hate the citizens? Nihilists at the helm « Michael Collins

  9. We are entitled to entitlement programs like Social Security because we paid for this government enforced retirement savings plan. IT IS OUR MONEY, THAT’S WHY WE ARE ENTITLED TO IT.

    Heartless, ‘dead billionaires walking’ want us to believe that ENTITLEMENT is a dirty word. Billionaires want to stick up the American People by robbing us of the money we paid for our retirement, all the while, blaming the victim, as usual.

    Are we really going to let them do this to us?

  10. Pingback: Deadbeats Bush and Gingrich Say “States Better Off Bankrupt” | COTO Report

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