Washington: Behind Closed Doors

Will the deficit commission find ways to keep the public out as it contemplates Social Security and Medicare cuts? It’s happened before. The pieces may already be in place for it to happen again.

“Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors,” sang the late, great recording artist Charlie Rich. Evidently, that’s the one thing Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, agree on when it comes to the president’s deficit commission.

The commission, which began meeting on Tuesday, has been barraged with letters demanding that it conduct all of its meetings – including those held by subgroups of the 18 commissioners – out in the open. One came from Michigan Rep. John Conyers and 15 other Democratic House members, another from House Republican minority leader John Boehner of Ohio. The third was signed by 77 social service organizations ranging from the NAACP to Vietnam Veterans of America.

What are they so worried about? Boehner’s letter asks, pointedly, why Continue reading Washington: Behind Closed Doors


The last time Washington created a new social insurance program, a backlash caused it to be repealed 14 months later. Because it’s voluntary, the new long-term health benefit might avoid that fate. But its chances of survival are still uncertain.

The most intriguing component of health care reform, to me, is the new long-term care program. As more and more families are finding out, this is a huge problem. People are living longer, households are debt-ridden, and that being the case, how do you take care of aging parents and other relatives?

More than 10 million Americans, mostly elderly, need long-term fare, according to a 2007 Georgetown report, but it’s expensive and most can’t afford it. Meanwhile, loosely regulated, mostly for-profit long-term care hospitals are popping up across the country, run on a shoe-string to maximize profits, often without much regard for patients’ welfare.

The new health care law incorporates a bill that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced last year, Continue reading The CLASS Act

“Gaming” the System, Again

The Bowles-Simpson deficit commission is hoping a computer game will educate Video Nation on the need for fiscal austerity. It’s been tried before.

The Website Industry Gamers reports that Erskine Bowles, co-chair of President Obama’s deficit commission, has approached Microsoft about creating a deficit-reduction video game to help “educate” the public about the need for fiscal austerity. Bowles, apparently, sees the commission’s work as not just to suggest ways to cut the deficit but to convert the unconverted.

To anyone who was around and thinking about the deficit during the first Clinton administration, the deja vu is overwhelming. Back then, Bill Clinton, in appreciation of Bob Kerrey’s vote for his first big package of economic legislation, let the Nebraska senator run a Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform: the direct precursor of Obama’s Continue reading “Gaming” the System, Again

David Brooks Saves Us From Ourselves

Thank heavens we have the New York Times columnist to explain to us that it’s all our own fault.

In his most recent commentary, Brooks offers more wisdom on what he’s described elsewhere as the greatest moral problem of our time. Not poverty. Not racial or gender or class-based prejudice. Certainly not global warming. No, kids. It’s debt.

Back in the golden age, Americans shunned debt.

The thought of running up excessive debt filled them with moral horror. But over the past years, life has become secure. This has eroded the fear of debt, private and public.

Someone seems to have forgotten to tell Brooks that there’s a recession on. But let’s continue.

Continue reading David Brooks Saves Us From Ourselves