CNN interviews Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles on the budget debate taking place in Washington between Republicans who want to cut 1.6% of the budget in FY2011 and Democrats who want to cut no more than 0.28% of the budget. Both chairs of Barack Obama’s deficit commission scoff at the entire debate, pointing out that neither cuts would amount to a hill of beans in controlling the spiraling debt of the United States. Simpson and Bowles emphasize that the debate has to shift from discretionary spending to entitlement reform, and that certain established interests (cough-cough-AARP-cough) are doing their best to stop that process:
Simpson blasts the AARP in particular in this interview. He notes that the AARP has claimed to have presented suggestions for improving the entitlement crisis, but that in reality, “They have suggested nothing.” Simpson warns that Social Security is a particular indicator of seriousness, and that if Congress and the White House can’t bring themselves to address that, then Medicare and Medicaid will be a lost cause.
However, they’re missing the point somewhat, too. The FY2011 budget has to be finalized, thanks to Democratic pusillanimity in the 111th Congress. Since it will take months to pursue the statutory changes necessary to begin reforms of entitlement programs, the House and Senate can only cut within current law for the remainder of this fiscal year. That means focusing on discretionary spending in the short term simply because they can’t do anything about entitlement spending in a budget that has to pass in two weeks. Also, it’s worth pointing out that at least some people in the Beltway are talking about entitlement reform. Paul Ryan has pledged to have significant entitlement reform changes in the FY2012 budget.
Otherwise, though, their point is well taken. Democrats in Congress are screeching about having to reduce spending any lower than 99.72% of current levels. That doesn’t bode well for serious discussions of entitlement reform.