Robert Samuelson launches a serious attack on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in this morning’s WaPo. As an employee of that institution, I will recuse myself from rants and raves and from defending my friend Bob Greenstein, whom Samuelson puts at the other end of a continuum from Grover Norquist, accusing both of equally blocking fiscal progress.
I do think it is important, however, to point out that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they’re not entitled to their own facts. Here are the facts that directly contradict the story Samuelson wants to tell.
–CBPP does not consider Social Security and Medicare “too popular to assail.” The Center has long said that while vulnerable beneficiaries need to be protected, this should not preclude changes to the programs’ benefit structures. It has, for example, supported the use of the chain-weighted CPI to adjust for price changes in Social Security benefits for current and future retirees, if the move to the chained CPI is applied government-wide (including to the tax code) and accompanied by a measure to moderate the effect on the oldest and most vulnerable beneficiaries.
The Center has consistently supported charging higher Medicare premiums to upper-income beneficiaries; it recommended the changes included in the Affordable Care Act in this area well before that law was enacted. And it has emphasized that Medicare should lead the way in slowing the growth of health care costs. None of these were or are popular moves with many progressives — they would slow the growth of benefits relative to their current path or pare benefits back — but the Center’s support for them is based on policy, not political, analysis.
–In short, CBPP has publically disagreed with those who say Social Security benefits can’t be touched at all and that all changes affecting Medicare benefits should be put off limits.
–CBPP has sounded the alarm for many years about long-term deficits and has certainly not shied away from addressing the need to raise some taxes on people below $250,000, as well as those above it. One of our most pressing concerns in recent years has been the need for more revenue to adequately meet present and especially future needs of our population, and in this regard, CBPP and Bob Greenstein have on numerous occasions advocated full expiration of the Bush tax cuts., not just the tax cuts for people above $250,000. Yet Samuelson implies our lack of support for even the expiration of the high-end cuts.
–In sharp contrast to Norquist, CBBP does not ask members of Congress to sign pledges and discourages them from doing so.
We have not come to these positions lightly. Anyone who knows the Center’s work knows how hard we have fought over the past three decades for programs that protect vulnerable Americans. But when our analysis leads us to positions that are potentially unpopular with one side or the other, we do not shy from those conclusions.
Samuelson may have a story to tell about intractable parties blocking progress in the current budget debate. But in choosing to use Bob Greenstein and CBPP as one side of that story, he chose very poorly indeed.