Robert Samuelson Chooses Badly

July 11th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

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.

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14 comments in reply to "Robert Samuelson Chooses Badly"

  1. azlib says:

    This sort of attack is all too predictable. It is part and parcel of those who always have to find intransigence on both sides of the political spectrum even when it does not exist.

    Anyone at this point who does not see that a vast majority of elected Republicans toe the Norquist no tax increases ever line, while a vast majority of elected Democrats are generally serious about controlling medical costs among other fiscal issues is simply delusional.

  2. Rob says:

    Our media is just like Murdoch’s entourage in Britain. Perhaps not illegally hacking, but some combination of seriously lazy and stupid. They take GOP marketing as truth and know too little basic economics to question clearly false claims. The why is obvious. Eight years of Bush policies that were terrible or worse has locked in fascist utopia on the revenue/rent seeking side. Now it’s time to slash all the unslashables when they had full control. Lies are repeated, “fiscal conservatives” that love deficits and have redefined deficits as spending is my favorite. All in all, news is nothing more than propaganda and Congressional debate and policymaking is an auction for campaign money. Thankfully, the public has been dumbed down enough to enable corporate Christofascism as we march toward the greatest levels of inequality ever seen in a “developed” country. Jimmy DeMint whistles God and Dixie while the nation burns. Toast is what we are…. If Marx ever had a chance, it’s near; republicans not having read it makes the irony far too thick….

  3. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    It’s a badge of honor for the CBBP.
    Uncork champagne and revel in the moment.

  4. Doug Webster says:

    You write: “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.”

    It was progressives who helped drive the passage of Obama’s health care reform bill and in fact who argued that it didn’t go far enough to take steps which would truly hem in rising costs.

    It was progressives who cried foul when the Bush squad rammed through the Drug bill that not only barred the government from using its buying power to negotiate lower costs for drugs which would have saved billions, but forbade US citizens from buying their prescriptions overseas at significantly lower costs.

    It was progressives to also pointed to the Bush administration actuary who was threatened with loss of his job if he ever released his study finding that the costs of that bill were a LOT larger than the administration was revealing in advance of Congressional voting.

    And it is progressives today who are laboring with all their might to try and stop Congressional actions which would chip away at the reform legislation passed in ways which would cripple the very cost control elements which made the measure so necessary.

    As far as Social Security goes, it has never been a part of the deficit problem and any fiscal shortcomings in the next 3 decades could be easily and simply addressed by removing the cap on income subject to SS withholding. That would make the fund solvent to the end of the century and affect only those making over $106,000 per year. It is favored by 2/3rds of Americans polled….and it has been totally shoved aside in any consideration of policy options. Tell me more about how democracy is supposed to work.

  5. lacywood says:

    Anyone else recall Samuelson speaking up for the proposed Iraq invasion and saying it would be no big deal for the economy “even if it cost as much as a hundred billion dollars”. His visionary qualities have not improved.

  6. comma1 says:

    You’ve convinced me that A) the CBPP isn’t progressive and B) those cool republican kids aren’t ever going to let you sit at their lunch table anyways.

  7. Texas Aggie says:

    I can’t remember ever reading an article by this Robert Samuelson that made any sense. The first ones I read I thought were by the real Samuelson, and I couldn’t figure out how a thoughtful and rational person like him would say such stupid things. Later I found out that this guy is essentially an impostor gaining credibility because of the last name he shares with one of the more influential economists of our time.

    If he changed his last name, I would bet that he wouldn’t have more than a handful of readers and that he would quickly disappear from the pages of the WaPo even though he toes the regressive line.

  8. RepubAnon says:

    Robert Samuelson once wrote an article criticizing Jimmy Carter for failing to weaken the regulations on the Savings and Loan industry – and praising Ronald Reagan for weakening those very regulations.

    Shortly thereafter, we had the S&L crisis.

    I’m not aware of any articles from Robert Samuelson talking about how wrong he was, and what he’d learned.

  9. Michael says:

    False equivalence is a standard wingnut and wingnut enabler tactic.

    Obama’s embrace of austerity and his forthcoming Social Security strafing run have me too depressed to be interested in politics for a while. Too many lies, and too much chosen anti-prosperity.

  10. Dave says:

    Mr. Samuelson is criticizing the CBPP for never having presented a balanced budget, a point you do not refute. Supporting the few token measures you mention is not courageous.

  11. Jhon James says:

    Robert, when you start defending Amtrak, your argument comes off as a Reason-style claim: HSR won’t be subsidized, and such subsidies are perfectly acceptable.

    Also, the Acela does not have over 50% of the market anywhere. Closest thing to reality: Amtrak (both Acela and Regional) has over 50% of the air/rail market. The majority of travel on the NEC is not by either air or rail but by car.

    If you want to attack hacks like Samuelson better, don’t be a flak. Have a consistent point of view, and run with it – and avoid zingers like the one about market share. Samuelson can reliably be expected to make elementary mistakes and omissions; you really don’t need to inconsistently talk about subsidies to show how wrong he is.

  12. Antipasto says:

    I can’t remember ever reading an article by s Robert Samuelson that made any sense to me..

  13. Foto Face says:

    I can`t agree more with Antipasto!

  14. Temple says:

    Anyone else recall Samuelson speaking up for the proposed Iraq invasion and saying it would be no big deal for the economy “even if it cost as much as a hundred billion dollars”.

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