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AmericaSpeaks for Whom?

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Written by Nicole Woo   
Friday, 25 June 2010 09:21
If you regularly read CEPR co-director Dean Baker's columns, you already know that the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (a.k.a. the Catfood Commission on FireDogLake) is stacked with deficit hawks (a.k.a. Zombies on Paul Krugman's blog) who are intent on gutting Social Security, under the guise of reducing federal budget deficits.  This Saturday, the billionaire deficit hawk Pete Peterson is largely bankrolling an organization called AmericaSpeaks to conduct Town Hall meetings in 20 cities across the nation to "find common ground on tough choices about our federal budget." 

Even worse, AmericaSpeaks will be presenting the results of these meetings just four days later at the next meeting of the Fiscal Commission in Washington DC.  Groups such as MoveOn, AARP and the AFL-CIO are planning to leaflet outside the Town Hall meetings on Saturday.  And experts across the nation, including Dean Baker, are expressing their misgivings about these Pete Peterson-funded events.

A closer look at the  discussion materials for the Town Hall meetings shows that Saturday's game will be played with a stacked deck.  They claim to include input from a broad range of view points in order to frame an intelligent discussion of the nation's long-term budget problems.  But, as CEPR's analyses of AmericaSpeaks' Federal Budget 101 and Options Workbook detail, their guides do not live up to their hype. 

For example, the materials do not discuss the cause of the recent explosion of the deficit, the collapse of the housing bubble -- the downturn resulting from this collapse will add more than $4 trillion to the national debt between 2007 and 2017. And while the guides note that most of the growth in future budget deficits is due health care costs, they do not explain the full extent to which the deficits are the result of the inefficiency of our health care system. If our per person health care costs were the same as any for any other wealthy country, then the U.S. would face huge surpluses rather than deficits.
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written by Debbie Aiona, June 27, 2010 4:23
I attended the event in Portland, OR yesterday with the 8 page CEPR analysis of the AmericaSpeaks materials in hand. When I suggested cutting health care spending in half by adopting a single payer system, I was told we needed to limit our recommendations to those in the options book. No outside information was to be considered. We were allowed, however, to make supplementary recommendations and single payer health care was a popular one nationally. I think we'll get more information quantifying the support some time in the future.

I was most disappointed in the outcome of the Social Security portion of the discussion. Nowhere in the AmericaSpeaks packet could I find the information that Social Security is funded through 2044. Instead, we were reminded regularly that we needed to get to $1.2 trillion in savings. As a result, a slim majority expressed support for raising the eligibility age to 69. Eight-five percent recommended raising the limit on taxable earnings.

There was some good news - support for both a carbon tax and securities transaction tax exceeded 60 percent and 61 percent thought the government should be doing more to strengthen the economy.

Based on my discussions with others who attended, we felt frustrated by the limited time we had to understand and discuss very complex issues. The clock was always ticking. I think it would have made more sense to spend the day on only one of the categories with more complete information provided. Many people came to the event not having read the background materials or options book beforehand. It was almost impossible to understand the choices in the short time we had for each topic.

Thank you for all the information you have provided on your website about the deficit, and particularly for the materials specifically designed to assist us with our participation in the event.

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