By endorsing a $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction deal in Washington, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss has risked making himself a target of an angry Republican base here in Georgia, regardless of how the crisis is finally resolved.
The proposal embraced by Chambliss and other members of the bipartisan Gang of Six calls for major cuts in Social Security, Medicare and other programs,, which conservatives support. However, it also proposes collecting an additional $1 trillion in revenue over the next 10 years, and conservative orthodoxy insists that any plan that produces additional government revenue is betrayal.
Under the circumstances, the last thing Chambliss needs is some liberal columnist praising his willingness to lead on a tough issue of great national importance. And it would hurt the senator even more to contrast his leadership with the absence of leadership among his fellow Republicans in Georgia’s House delegation, most of whom have taken a deeply irresponsible approach to the nation’s fiscal crisis.
So I’ll make sure not to say those things.
Instead, maybe it would be better to condemn Chambliss for backing a plan that would cut future Social Security benefits by hundreds of billions of dollars. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Accuse him of being mean to old people!
Except that he’s not. The Gang of Six does propose to reduce future benefits by changing the way that Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation. But that’s just common sense. Most experts agree that the current inflation-adjusting mechanism is set too high, and over time would boost benefits significantly higher than inflation would require. The new approach — borrowed from recommendations released late last year by a presidential commission — would be more accurate, and thus more fair.
And as Chambliss takes pains to point out, all savings generated by changes in Social Security would be used to make Social Security financially sound. It’s an important point: No revenue generated by the self-insurance program is being spent elsewhere.
In fact, any liberal groups or politicians who attack the Gang of Six proposals regarding Social Security are probably playing politics. The changes sought by Chambliss and his colleagues are reasonable and would be necessary regardless of the nation’s larger fiscal challenges.
Still, that doesn’t exactly improve Chambliss’ standing with his base.
How about ObamaCare? While the Gang of Six doesn’t propose to repeal the entire health-care reform package so hated by conservatives, it does call for abandoning one of its major new programs. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program, also known as the CLASS Act, was created to be a voluntary self-insurance plan in which citizens paid monthly premiums in return for long-term nursing-home care should they need it.
The Gang of Six plan calls for outright repeal of CLASS, noting that recent analysis has cast doubt on the program’s ability to be self-sustaining, as required by law.
“Simply put, it could be difficult, if not impossible, to balance money coming into the program with the money that could ultimately flow out, and thus to create a program that would be solvent and sustainable,” as the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation reports.
So hey, killing part of ObamaCare ought to buy Chambliss at least some protection on his right flank, correct?
Still, there’s that little matter of $1 trillion in revenue increases. Poll after poll demonstrates that most Americans support attacking the debt problem through both spending cuts and tax increases. Politically, it’s the only way to cut a deal. And mathematically, it’s impossible to address the debt through spending cuts alone. The numbers just do not work.
As Chambliss noted in a discussion at the AJC back in April, non-defense, non-entitlement spending accounts for just 12 percent of the budget.
“Now you could cut out that whole 12 percent and you wouldn’t solve this problem of $14 trillion in debt,” he said. “You got to have enough money to run the government and you got to have excess money to start paying down on that debt.”
Yes, you do. Unfortunately, many of his fellow Republicans just can’t bring themselves to believe it.
– Jay Bookman