The co-chairs of the president’s Fiscal Commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, are both "formers." Simpson’s a former senator from Wyoming, Bowles is a former White House chief of staff and frequently failed senate candidate from North Carolina. They don’t represent anyone, except perhaps the Wall Street speculators who would love to get their hands on the Social Security system.
In contrast, another commission member, Jan Schakowsky, is a "current." She currently represents a Chicago-area Congressional district, having served since 1999 as a heavy-lifter in the House, with an assignment on the Energy and Commerce Committee and a key leadership role on the Steering and Policy Committee. As an Illinois legislator and member of the US House, she has for the better part of two decades been an engaged player in budget debates, and she continues to make the hard choices in the real-world setting of the Congress as opposed to the theoretical zone where Simpson and Bowles operate. Additionally, Schakowsky’s grassroots experience makes her one of the most uniquely qualified members of the deficit commission, as she served as program director of Illinois Public Action, the state’s largest public interest group, and executive director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens.
Schakowsky "gets" that working families did not cause the financial instability of the moment and, unlike Simpson and Bowles, she rejects the notion that working families should bear the overwhelming majority of the burden for putting the nation’s fiscal house in order. As such, what Schakowsky has to say is grounded in a lot more reality than what the commission co-chairs have to say.
And what Schakowsky is saying adds a needed dose of realism to the debate about how to balance budgets, reduce debt and grow the economy.
"Lower- and middle-class Americans did not cause the deficit. Just ten years ago the federal budget was generating a surplus as far as the eye could see. That surplus was turned into a deficit due to massive tax cuts—mainly to wealthy Americans; two wars paid for by borrowed money; and a major recession caused by the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks. Over the last decade the incomes of middle-class Americans have actually shrunk, while those of the wealthiest 2 percent of the population have exploded," argues the Congresswoman.
Schakowsky is blunt about how best to approach the commission’s charge.
"The middle class did not benefit from the Republican economic policies that led to the current deficit—they were the victims—they should not be called upon to pick up the tab," says the congresswoman.
As such, Schakowsky rejects the Simpson-Bowles scheme, which would weaken Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while cutting taxes for multinational corporations. "The president’s Fiscal Commission has been given a concrete goal: to achieve primary budget balance in 2015, ensuring that all spending is paid for except for interest on the national debt," she explains. "Last week, co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson laid out their plan, which they presented to the commission and to the public. Their proposal would have serious consequences for lower- and middle-class Americans, and that is why I cannot support it."