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February 19, 2013 11:57 AM Deficits and Old Folks

By Ed Kilgore

There’s a new Simpson-Bowles plan out today, and your interest in it probably depends not only on your political views but on which news sources you consult—some of which are greeting it as divine revelation and others as a nothing-burger.

Since the latter category includes most of the actual key decision-makers in Washington, Simpson-Bowles 2.0 is likely to serve as a symbol (and to certain deficit hawks, an idol) of a theoretical Austerity Deal (higher taxes and reduced spending) that remains out of reach. But as Matt Yglesias notes today, let’s don’t pretend Simpson and Bowles are just bringing out the green eyeshades and nothing more:

The main policy debate here isn’t about deficits, but about spending, and specifically spending on the elderly. The number of elderly people is expected to grow as a share of the population, and because some of our elderly-focused spending specifically targets health care, the volume of spending per old person is also poised to rise. What to do about that—to increase the taxation of the non-elderly to pay the tab, or to cut the tab by reducing our commitment to helping the elderly—is what’s being debated.

I’d add there is obviously another path: maintaining our commitment to the elderly but finding ways to reduce the cost, especially through health care cost containment measures that don’t simply shift costs and risks to the old folks themselves. One of the maddening aspects of budget discussions is that observers often lump “savings” together as identical in nature regardless of whether they are generated by actual benefit cuts or some other means. Indeed, it’s sometimes difficult to get Republicans to agree on a definition of “cuts,” since they often refuse to accept a current-services definition of “spending” and so trumpet actual cuts as modestly limited increases.

But since even Erskine Bowles says prospects for a “grand bargain” on the budget are “on life support,” we should have plenty of time to sort out what we mean by this or that framing of the “entitlement” issue.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on February 19, 2013 12:14 PM:

    Oh goody!

    Another Simpleton/Bowel-movement Plan.

    What's this one got in it, the "Soylent Green" Act of 2013?

  • Peter C on February 19, 2013 12:19 PM:

    The first Simpson-Bowles commission as an utter FAILURE, unable to assemble the consensus required to officially issue its report to Congress. Seeing that they failed the first time, frankly, I'd be happy if Alan Simpson and Erkine Bowles sat down and shut up.

  • Mimikatz on February 19, 2013 12:26 PM:

    It also depends on the definition of "the elderly". Many of the deficit hawk proposals (from people with cushy jobs) involve pushing the benefit age up to 67 or 68 for Medicare and cutting out early SS benefits or reducing them even more. Tom Friedman was pushing that one again on Sunday.

    The GOPers pushing for the "balanced budget in 10 years" will have to explain to people between 55 and 60 that whereas they promised 4-5 years ago they wouldn't cut benefits for people then 55 and over, those folks are now pushing 60 and so may indeed have their benefits cut.

    Of course is is all backwards. We should be lowering the Medicare age to 55 with a buy-in and reducing end-of-life care in a humane way. And raising taxes. But that is an impossible discussion for most people. So we get nothing but Bowles-Simpon BS.

  • hornblower on February 19, 2013 1:09 PM:

    Exactly what are Alan Simpson's qualifications for this job? I still haven't forgotten his performance at the Clarence Thomas hearings when he insulted Anita Hill.
    Tell him to go back home and ride off into the sunset.

  • bh on February 19, 2013 1:10 PM:

    What to do about that—to increase the taxation of the non-elderly to pay the tab, or to cut the tab by reducing our commitment to helping the elderly—is what’s being debated.

    Oh please. We're "debating" rich men hitting every available front for reducing their taxes. If we were actually debating the level of services (1) there wouldn't be so much grandfathering of current over-55s and (2) Duncan Black wouldn't be literally the only person with a megaphone suggesting an increase.

    I swear there was a time I could read Matt Yglesias without convulsively eye rolling, but it's been a long while.

  • OKDem on February 19, 2013 1:51 PM:

    "But since even Erskine Bowles says prospects for a “grand bargain” on the budget are “on life support,” we should have plenty of time to sort out what we mean by this or that framing of the “entitlement” issue. "

    Pull the plug already on the not so Grand Bargain.

    The US does have a spending problem; it does not spend ENOUGH on programs that give benefit to the people and economy in general instead of the 1%.

  • jkl; on February 19, 2013 3:33 PM:

    Just the cost of time in a skilled nursing facility, a nursing home....upwards of eight thousand dollars a month.
    Republicans could care less if the elderly suffer and die.

    Granny, Grandpa--republicans want you to pull yourselves up by that hospital bed rail and quit being such a taker.

    Oh--you paid medicare taxes for years for the promise of health care as an elder?
    Too bad, republicans changed their mind.

    They want the oil and gas industries and their other cronies to have the tax money, and all the breaks.

    They want to control everything--even your fragile destiny--even though they lost the last two presidential elections and have the approval ratings of head lice.