Yesterday, President Obama all but endorsed the deficit reduction plan outlined by the Gang of Six senators. The plan still faces numerous obstacles — it’s incredibly vague on the details, has critics on both sides of the aisle, and may not even be ready by the Aug. 2 default deadline. Liberal Democrats have pointed out the plan is far from a balanced approach, asking seniors and the working poor to bear the brunt of the pain without asking the wealthy or corporations to sacrifice at all.
Two members of the Gang of Six, Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) were positively crowing about the conservative bona fides of their plan yesterday on MSNBC. Because the proposal will actually be scored as a $1.5 trillion tax cut under current law (with the Bush tax cuts set to expire in 2012), they are confident that House Republicans, who have vowed never to vote for a tax increase, will go for it.
The Congressional Budget Office will score the plan as a $1.5 trillion tax cut, as it lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to between 23 and 29 percent, eliminates the alternative minimum tax, and lowers personal income tax rates. But by closing loopholes, the Gang of Six says they’ll raise $1.3 trillion in revenue.
The disparity can only be explained because they employ an accounting gimmick — the two projections use different CBO baselines. The tax cut number is compared to current law, which assumes the Bush tax cuts will expire and the AMT will take effect, neither of which seems likely to happen. The revenue number is compared to a “plausible baseline” (which assumes expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts).
The plan also recommends “reforming” Social Security in ways that will even affect current retirees. But not a penny of the money saved will go to deficit reduction, which begs the question — why include Social Security at all? The Gang of Six has said all the changes will go toward securing the long-term financial security of the program, but Social Security is already solvent until 2037 and does not contribute to the deficit.
The cuts in the Gang of Six plan aren’t minor, either. It proposes a chained CPI adjustment to Social Security, which may not be a bad idea when combined with other measures to boost benefits and strengthen the program, but on its own is tantamount to a $1,300 cut each year for recipients over their lifetimes. Strengthen Social Security co-chair and former Obama adviser Nancy Altman has denounced the idea as an overly harsh cut. “The chained-CPI is poor policy, and given that seniors vote in disproportionately high numbers, it is equally poor politics,” she said.