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Despite the general failure of the catfood commission to fulfill its mission, coming in neither on time nor with the number of votes it needed, Washington appears ready to embrace it as though it had come up with real solutions for getting the nation back on track, like creating actual investment in jobs and infrastructure. But no, slash and burn is in vogue, and that's what the "bipartisans" on Capitol Hill intend to do. Here's the latest.

Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Monday said they will introduce a bill early next year based on the report from President Obama’s deficit commission.

Warner and Chambliss have been meeting with a group of 18 senators on finding a way to balance the budget, and said they have concluded the debt commission's proposal is the best basis for bipartisan talks....

Maya MacGuineas of the New America Foundation, who has been working with the senators on the bill, said they plan to have it introduced in January. "This is the first time in so many years that there has been real leadership on this issue," she said in praise of the effort. MacGuineas said there in no way that President Obama's State of the Union address will fail to deal with the debt issue and the debt ceiling and CR extension provide excellent hooks to have a plan adopted.

In Dec. 14 floor speeches, 16 members of the Warner-Chambliss group spoke in praise of the debt commission plan. Speaking were Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

Those recommendations, of course, include cuts to Social Security, and the introduction of this bill in January could very well be reinforced in the President's State of the Union address, if Robert Kuttner is to be believed.

The tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is just the first part of a multistage drama that is likely to further divide and weaken Democrats.

The second part, now being teed up by the White House and key Senate Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan — including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president’s State of the Union address.

Given that Obama acquiesced to the convening of the catfood commission, once the deficit peacocks in Congress failed to create one and yet insisted upon it happening, and also appointed two chairmen with long histories of advocating for Social Security cuts, Kuttner's probably not far off base. Plenty of observers do believe Kuttner, since he is well connected, including Ezra.

I don't know who Kuttner's sources are, but the report is plausible. You might even add that the White House's reasons aren't just political: Many in the administration worry about the medium-term deficit and think it important to get started on deficit reduction, and on the specific case of Social Security, feel it's better to get the system back into balance when a Democrat is in the White House and Democrats control the Senate than in a world where Republicans hold more power.

I'm pretty hostile to most forms of Social Security cuts, for reasons I've explained previously. But that's not even my biggest worry here: If the Republicans are talking cuts and the Democrats are talking cuts, that means we're just talking cuts. Someone, however, needs to be talking investment. As Andy Stern has argued, we've got both a budget deficit and an investment deficit. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our schools were in bad shape before the recession and they're in much worse shape now. R&D isn't where it needs to be, and nor is America's broadband system, or its energy grid.

Here's what Ezra is missing--what almost all pundits on this issue have missed: Social Security didn't create the deficit and does not contribute to it. Two wars and the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy did. That Social Security is on the table in deficit reduction talks is a massive, massive failure on the part of Democratic leadership to understand the reality of Social Security and to effectively communicate that reality. Perhaps Obama and his advisers do think that Democratic "reforms" of Social Security are preferable to what the Republicans would do, and that is a valid argument, provided you accept the flawed conventional wisdom that Social Security is broken. Unfortunately, the best approach to ensuring Social Security's long term fiscal solvency has been essentially abandoned in the tax deal. The payroll tax cut now enacted, probably permanently, effectively means that an increase in the payroll tax cap is not going to happen.

From a long-term political perspective, cuts to Social Security is my biggest worry. A weakening of Social Security on the Democrats' watch will be a disaster for a party already losing critical senior votes. But it's not just a generational concern, as brooklynbadboy forcefully argued Sunday. Undercutting the Democratic party's 75 year commitment to and championship of Social Security will blow a hole so big in the middle of this party that it might not ever recover. From a long term social and economic perspective--what this will do to an already shrinking middle class, the possibilities are even bleaker.

What Ezra has absolutely right is that we need investment. Tax cuts and slashing spending will not guide our way into prosperity. And yet we're embarking on one more experiment in trying to do just that.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 03:50 PM PST.

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