Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pelosi Appoints Clyburn, Lowey, and Van Hollen to the Budget Conf. What Should We Know About Them?

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi named her three conferees for the bipartisan, bicameral budget conference:
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi today named three House Democratic Members to serve on a conference committee to complete a final FY 2014 budget agreement.  She appointed Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn; Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member on the Budget Committee; and Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee.
What do we know about these three?

First, all three of them voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011. In case you forget, that was the legislation that came out of the manufactured crisis of July 2011. It imposed austerity on the country by capping spending levels and paving the way for sequestration cuts. Anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past few years should have known that the Supercommittee created by the BCA would produce no bipartisan deficit reduction plan, so a vote for the BCA was a vote for sequestration cuts.

None of them have signed onto John Conyers's Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013, which would repeal and not replace sequestration cuts. None of them have signed the Grayson-Takano letter opposing any plan that cuts Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

James Clyburn was one of only 16 Democrats to vote for the Simpson-Bowles plan when it came to a vote in March 2012. That is even worse than it looks because S-B critic-turned-cheerleader Nancy Pelosi argued that the plan being put to a vote was to the right of Simpson-Bowles. She refused to whip for it accordingly.

Last fall, in the lead up to the "fiscal cliff," Chris Van Hollen expressed a willingness to cut Social Security by the implementation of chained CPI and to raise the Medicare eligibility age:
On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear how strenuously Democrats will resist cutting entitlements. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) said he and others were open to changes as long as they were done in a measured way and were part of deal that included tax increases. Mr. Van Hollen also said changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations.

“I’m willing to consider all of these ideas as part of an overall plan,” Mr. Van Hollen said Tuesday at the Journal’s CEO Council.
He backtracked on the latter part, but I take him at his original words behind closed doors. Nita Lowey is the only one of the three that seems to be much of a defender of Social Security. She was one of the 100+ House Democrats to sign onto a letter stating their opposition to any plan like Simpson-Bowles that cuts Social Security:
Dear Mr. President,

We oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age. We also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part.

You have charged the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with proposing recommendations that improve the long-term fiscal outlook and address the growth of entitlement spending. It is our view that Social Security--which is prohibited by law from adding to the national budget deficit--does not belong as part of those recommendations.

By 2023, Social Security will have built up a $4.3 trillion surplus, and, without any action, can pay at least 75 percent of all benefits thereafter. Because Social Security is funded separately from the general treasury and has no borrowing authority, it has not contributed to the federal deficit. Despite these facts, some Commission members have repeatedly alleged the need to cut Social Security for budgetary reasons.

For 75 years, Social Security has been a promise to the American people that if they work hard and pay their fair share, they will have a financially secure retirement. In communities across this country, Social Security benefits are often the only source of income helping families maintain a decent standard of living. Social Security's benefits are modest, averaging less than $13,000 a year, but they are vital to the vast majority of Americans who receive them.

Cutting Social Security benefits further than they are already being cut by raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 would create needless hardship for millions of vulnerable Americans. This is especially true in the face of an economic downturn that has wiped out trillions of dollars that Americans were relying on for their retirement security and the increased dismantlement of the private and public pension systems.
If any of the Commission's recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them.
There are some promising names on the Senate side, but, again, just "some." Whereas Boehner and Pelosi only get three appointments each, the full Senate Budget Committee gets to go:
The next steps in the fractious dance we call governance will be up to the conferees. That committee consists of House members Paul Ryan, Tom Cole, Tom Price, Diane Black, James Clyburn, Chris Van Hollen, and Nita Lowey. And from the Senate, the entire Budget Committee: Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Bill Nelson, Debbie Stabenow, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse, Mark Warner, Jeff Merkley, Chris Coons, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Kaine, Angus King, Jeff Sessions, Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi, Mike Crapo, Lindsey Graham, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, Kelly Ayotte, and Roger Wicker.
I have strong faith in Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Sheldon Whitehouse. They've all been strong defenders of Social Security and Medicare and have signed onto the Harkin-Sanders no-chained-CPI resolution. I have no faith, however, in Mark Warner. Bill Nelson and Angus King are on the right wing of the Democratic caucus. Despite his excellence on security state issues, Ron Wyden has a strong neoliberal bent.

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