Compassionate Austerity

New York City

Ari Berman’s characterization of Pete Peterson as a proponent of austerity at all costs in “How the Austerity Class Rules Washington” [Nov. 7] is inaccurate and misleading. Peterson has stated many times that given the economic situation, we need a plan that stimulates short-term job creation while setting reasonable goals to reduce our long-term structural deficits.

In addition to recognizing the need to create jobs now, the foundation and Peterson have consistently stated that our fiscal challenges must be addressed in a compassionate way that maintains a strong safety net. One of the primary goals of the foundation is to ensure that Social Security and other key safety net programs are strong, solvent and secure for future generations—particularly for America’s most vulnerable populations.

While the article suggests that the Peterson Foundation funded the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission, a more accurate and responsible description would have noted that the foundation was one of a diverse group of organizations (including progressives) that donated staff and expertise to the commission. The foundation did not provide monetary support to the commission.

The primary mission of the Peterson Foundation is to raise public awareness 
about debt and deficit issues, not to advocate specific solutions. We are pleased to have voices from across the political spectrum engage in this important conversation. That is why we are proud to provide grants to organizations with a broad range of opinions, including the Center for American Progress, the Economic Policy Institute and the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network.

The foundation and Pete have publicly stated that given the magnitude of our fiscal challenges, no single solution can address these imbalances. All options, including tax increases, reductions in defense spending and a review of benefits for better-off Americans, must be part of a comprehensive reform plan. The foundation and Pete are dedicated to assisting with the development of a bipartisan consensus that puts the country on a more secure and sustainable fiscal path. If we fail to do so, we will put our safety net programs, our economic future and the future living standards of Americans at risk.

LORETTA UCELLI, vice president
Peter G. Peterson Foundation
 


 

Berman Replies

Washington, D.C.

There is nothing inaccurate in my article or in my portrayal of the Peterson Foundation. I wrote that Peterson-backed groups had staffed the Bowles-Simpson commission and organized town hall events on its behalf, underwriting what was purported to be an independent government entity. The November 11, 2010, Washington Post reported that “the salaries of two senior staffers, Marc Goldwein and Ed Lorenzen, are paid by private groups that have previously advocated cuts to entitlement programs. Lorenzen is paid by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, while Goldwein is paid by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is also partly funded by the Peterson group.” Furthermore, the Post noted that America Speaks, which has received nearly $2.4 million from the Peterson Foundation, organized a twenty-city electronic town hall meeting for the commission in June 2010. “This is a truly unusual event,” added Mother Jones, “because it marks the first time a presidential commission’s activities are financed by a private group that has long been lobbying the government on the very subjects the commission is supposed to ‘study.’”

The foundation did give $200,000 apiece to the Center for American Progress, the Economic Policy Institute and the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network (with grants to the conservative Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute); but that money pales in comparison with the millions it has donated to center-right groups like the Concord Coalition and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Finally, one wonders about the Peterson Foundation’s commitment to “a strong safety net,” given that Peterson has called Social Security a “publicly subsidized vacation” and has spent a fortune distributing inaccurate and alarmist statistics about the program’s impending collapse [see William Greider, “The Man Who Wants to Loot Social Security,” March 2, 2009]. The fact is, the Social Security trust fund is fully solvent until 2038, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and does not add a dime to the deficit. The most pressing problem facing the country right now is not the debt and deficit or the so-called “entitlement” programs but our massive unemployment crisis. Putting people back to work is the best way to boost the economy and reduce the deficit.

ARI BERMAN


 

Wrong, You Writhing, Whingeing Wimps

Sevierville, Tenn.

I am compelled to respond to letters in the November 7 edition regarding this president. To the writer who wrote “I have no clue what the man stands for, what he believes in”: he obviously stands for and believes in a multitude of things the Republican/Tea Party doesn’t. For me, that is good enough. To the person who wrote “We were promised a Churchill, but we got a Chamberlain”: Churchill didn’t have his citizenship, religion and patriotism questioned; wasn’t black and wasn’t dealt a lousy, lazy governing body. This president is a model of decency, composure and intelligence leading a country that still loves to hate. To the person who wrote “Needless to say to most Nation readers, I am beyond disappointed”: disappointment doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I would have if this president isn’t re-elected. We are damned fortunate to have this man and his family in the White House. My question to all Nation readers is, What hopes and dreams does the alternative bring? Proud to say, without regrets or reservations, Obama 2012.

WILLIAM DAYTON


 

Duluth, Minn.

I’m so astonished and infuriated by the whingeing tone of those who are “disappointed” in President Obama. He didn’t bring peace to the Middle East. He didn’t reverse climate change. He didn’t create jobs; he didn’t reduce the deficit; he didn’t close Guantánamo; and he shouldn’t have killed Osama bin Laden like that or interfered in Libya. He shouldn’t have let the Tea Party take the House, and he lost the filibuster-proof lead in the Senate. All by himself. What is wrong with you people? You’ll stay home and let the Perrys and the Romneys and the Cains run our nation? Please, please don’t do this.

NORBERT HIRSCHHORN, MD


 

Weathersfield, Vt.

So Obama can’t walk on water. Boo-hoo. Are we going to vote for whichever clown the GOP chooses to oppose him? Or not at all (which will have the same effect)?

CHRIS HARRIS


 

Springfield, Va.

Many liberals are so irate, they won’t vote for Obama in 2012. So, from the rest of us: many thanks for President Romney and his neocon foreign policy loons, his right-wing Supreme Court picks, Medicare vouchers, Social Security cuts, a terrified Hispanic community and so much more.

KATHRYN THOMAS