In today's Washington Post in "What the Debt Panel Missed," Robert Samuelson embarrasses all the high quality economists who have or have shared his last name with more inane remarks. So, according to him, the "debt panel" missed defining what is our national interest in various programs, saying that just arguing to "give our children and grandchildren a better life" does not cut it. For him, our national interest involves no cuts in defense spending, as some were suggested by the panel, but "It's not in the national interest to subsidize Americans, through Social Security and Medicare for the last 20 to 25 years of their lives because healthier people and the huge costs make the budget unmanageable."
Regarding defense (and intelligence) spending, it strikes me there are many candidates for cutting or even eliminating. Do we really need 16 intelligence agencies? Given that there is the CIA on the one hand and intel agencies for the Army, Navy, and Air Force (this latter reputedly run by total maniacs) on the other, what on earth do we need the DIA for? Eliminate some of them, heck, a bunch of them. By many accounts the most capable of the lot is State Department I&R, which spends less than practically any of the others.
Then we have all the spending on privatized defense for the successor to Blackwell and its cronies. Instead of using military personnel for guarding diplomats and many other things, we pay about five times more per person for these privatized services that have had a simply awful track record in Iraq and elsewhere.
As for Social Security and Medicare, given that the vast majority of people live to use these, how is providing them not in the national interest? OK, medical care costs are rising, but the deficit commission offered nothing on this, and unfortunately the recent health care reform only nibbled at the problem. Social Security is not in financial trouble, and raising retirement ages, what Samuelson and the commission both support, does nothing about the near term deficit problem, while putting manual workers at risk in the future. And, life expectancy of poor white women in the US has actually been declining recently, so some of his assumptions about the future are not justified. In any case, as argued by Dean Baker and others, if a financial problem for Social Security arises, it can easily be fixed in a decade or so with minor tweaking. Doing anything now is stupid.
I do agree with Samuelson on one thing. The proposal to raise tax revenues by eliminating a variety of tax loopholes and deductions or "tax expenditures" is a worthy proposal. I have long supported tax simplification and did so back in 1986 when we had our last round of it. Bush, Jr. should have imitated Reagan and focused on that in his second term rather than running around the country for 60 days bashing Social Security. This might be passable and is fully deserving of support. However, the failure of the commission to get 14 votes means the pieces of its proposals will be chopped up and fed separately to the Congress, with the likelihood that very little of it will get passed in the current vituperous environment.