The presidential commission charged with finding bipartisan solutions to lowering the nation's trillion-dollar budget deficit met this morning for the fourth time since April.
The 18-member commission heard from Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and Barry Anderson, who recently served as head of the Budgeting and Public Expenditures Division of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They discussed the fiscal outlook for the United States and global economy and possible solutions to the debt crisis.
The committee is stacked. Its concern is the public debt, when the private debt is the millstone around the economy's neck. This week we offer Jamie Galbraith's analysis and testimony, beginning today.
Professor Jamie Galbraith's testimony to Deficit Commission
Statement to the Commission on Deficit Reduction
James K. Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen, jr., Chair in Government/Business
Relations, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin
June 30, 2010
Mr. Chairmen, members of the commission, thank you for inviting this statement.
I am a professional economist, but I have served in a political role, as Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress. I am offering this statement on behalf of Americans for Democratic Action, an organization co-founded in 1949 by (among others) Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur M. Schlesinger, jr., and Ronald Reagan. Accordingly I would like to begin with a political comment.
1. Clouds Over the Work of the Commission.
Your proceedings are clouded by illegitimacy. In this respect, there are four major issues.
First, most of your meetings are secret, apart from two open sessions before this one, which were plainly for show. There is no justification for secret meetings on deficit reduction. No secrets of any kind are involved. Nothing you say will affect financial markets. Congress long ago -- in 1975 -- reformed its procedures to hold far more sensitive and complicated meetings, notably legislative markups, in the broad light of day.
Secrecy breeds suspicion: first, that your discussions are at a level of discourse so low that you feel it would be embarrassing to disclose them. Second, that some members of the commission are proceeding from fixed, predetermined agendas. Third, that the purpose of the secrecy is to defer public discussion of cuts in Social Security and Medicare until after the 2010 elections. You could easily dispel these suspicions by publishing video transcripts of all of your meetings on the Internet, and by holding all future meetings in public. Please do so.
Second, there is a question of leadership. A bipartisan commission should approach its task in a judicious, open-minded and dispassionate way. For this, the attitude and temperament of the leadership are critical.
I first met Senator Simpson when we were both on Capitol Hill; at Harvard he became friends with my late parents. He is admirably frank in his views. But Senator Simpson has plainly shown that he lacks the temperament to do a fair and impartial job on this commission. This is very clear from the abusive response he made recently to Alex Lawson of Social Security Works, who was asking important questions about the substance of the commission's work, as well as calling attention to the illegitimate secrecy under which you are operating.
A general cannot speak of the President with contempt. Likewise the leader of a commission intended to sway the public cannot display contempt for the public. With due respect, Senator Simpson's conduct fails that test.
Third, most members of the Commission are political leaders, not economists. With all respect for Alice Rivlin, with just one economist on board you are denied access to the professional arguments surrounding this highly controversial issue. In general, it is impossible to have a fair discussion of any important question when the professional participants in that discussion have been picked, in advance, to represent a single point of view.
Conflicts of interest constitute the fourth major problem. The fact that the Commission has accepted support from Peter G. Peterson, a man who has for decades conducted a relentless campaign to cut Social Security and Medicare, raises the most serious questions. Quite apart from the merits of Mr. Peterson's arguments, this act must be condemned. A Commission serving public purpose cannot accept funds or other help from a private party with a strong interest in the outcome of that Commission's work. Your having done so is a disgrace.
In my view you also should not have accepted help from the Economic Policy Institute, even though EPI's positions on the merits are substantially closer to mine.