On November 17, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion featuring Brookings’s Budgeting and National Priorities Director Isabel Sawhill and Century Foundation Vice President for Policy Greg Anrig, reprising their debate on the deficit and entitlement reform published in our Fall Issue [“Attention Deficit,” Issue #18]. The panel, “The Politics of Entitlement Reform and the Budget Deficit,” revisited the themes touched upon in the Democracy debate and also tackled the chairmen’s mark of the President’s deficit commission and another report, released today, by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s deficit commission, headed by Alice Rivlin and former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici.
In Democracy, Anrig argued:
The economic crisis that we have not yet fully emerged from would have been far worse without the protections that progressives built over the course of many political battles since the 1930s. They are the essence of what we have accomplished at the national level to make our society more humane. The abundant work still to be done will proceed more successfully if we embrace those popular programs and explain to the public why we need to make them even stronger. Delivering on that promise without abandoning the Democratic Party’s well-established commitment to fiscal responsibility is the clearest path to restoring the public’s trust in government and progressivism.
One theme of Anrig’s argument is the need to preserve and strengthen Social Security and Medicare at all costs. My focus is on the costs, on what progressives give up by taking this stance.… These costs include: first, a loss of confidence in government’s ability to manage its fiscal affairs; second, a crowding out of most other spending, some of it essential to the broad-based prosperity that progressives support; and third, punishing and politically unpopular tax increases for working-age Americans…. My argument is that fairness demands that we balance the needs of senior citizens against the needs of working-age Americans and their children.
Ron Haskins, Brookings senior fellow of Economic Studies, moderated the panel discussion. Sawhill and Anrig were the keynote speakers. The panel also included Henry J. Aaron, Brookings senior fellow of Economic Studies; Alison Fraser, director of the Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation; Robert Greenstein, founder and executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and Eugene Steuerle, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.